The Judas Kiss – October 2012


By David Hare

Directed by Neil Armfield

Venue: Hampstead Theatre

Date: Saturday 13th October 2012

I didn’t find this as enjoyable as the original production with Liam Neeson and Tom Hollander. The design and the play itself were partly responsible for this, but the main flaw from my perspective was the central performance by Rupert Everett, who lacked the gravitas which Liam Neeson brought to the role. This was partly a physical thing, since with his slight frame Rupert would never convince the impersonation aficionados, while with the padding they chose to use I found him unconvincingly artificial. Even so, I warmed to him as the play went on despite his overlight touch, and with the dialogue being a little darker in the second half I felt his performance worked better. I accept that his interpretation was within reasonable bounds, but having seen what can come out of this play I found it wanting. On the previous occasion I felt moved by Wilde’s situation; today I wasn’t.

The set for the first half was dark and dreary. A bare black wall slanted across the stage on the right with a gap for a window towards the back. A large bed was against the back wall, sheets askew, and when the lights came up a little I could see a sofa against the wall, a large chair in the centre of the room, other chairs and tables in between these and lots of clothes strewn about the place. We were too far round to the left to see that side of the stage properly. Over the whole floor, and covering some of the tables as well, was a vast brown sheet, possibly velour or a fabric of similar appearance. It hadn’t been spread out fully, so there were wrinkles and folds everywhere, and to my eye it made the whole room look cheap. This is meant to be an exclusive London hotel, after all; I’d expect better carpeting at least.

The play starts with a naked romp in the bed by two of the hotel staff, one of the maids and one of the men. The arrival of their boss put an end to their shenanigans, and the tidying up process allowed for some initial exposition. Soon Ross and then Bosie arrived, giving us more information and setting up their characters: Ross the quiet, prudent, faithful type and Bosie a spoilt, petulant brat of the aristocracy with no discernible positive qualities whatsoever.

During this section the servants were making up the bed – the old sheets had been stripped off and removed. Both Steve and I found this distracting, and lost out on some of the dialogue as a result. Perhaps our sightlines made it worse as the bed was in our view all the time; people on the other side of the auditorium may have fared better.

The servants continued to be somewhat of a distraction after Wilde arrived, too. Their presence was necessary though, as they allowed us to see the different attitudes of the three men towards them. Bosie was used to having servants; his idea of the only alternative to a servant pouring his drink was that the drink should pour itself. Ross was courteous to the servants and handed out the money to them, but Oscar was both kind and generous, which explained the high regard these representatives of the ordinary man and woman had for him. Mind you, the maid would happily have taken every penny that was going, and we enjoyed her reactions when Sandy Moffat, the major-domo, refused £5 for each of the three servants; she looked away, then spoke up brightly to agree with Sandy when prompted.

I don’t remember the servants being such a distraction before, but as I don’t have notes from that far back I can’t be sure. The performance started to get into its stride once they had gone and we could focus on the central relationship between Oscar and Bosie. It was clear that Bosie assumed his cousin could either prevent Wilde’s arrest or an actual trial, and that his sole motivation, despite his protestations of affection for Oscar, was his hatred for his father, the Marquis of Queensbury. Wilde was flippant at times, but his reason for staying seemed to be solely his passion for Bosie, the same sort of destructive passion expounded by Rattigan in The Deep Blue Sea.

For the second half, the set was changed to the villa in Italy. Still with the black wall, there was a huge white drape suspended over the set and drawn back to create an overhang and a wall, with the rest of the curtain pulled back round the side. The bed was placed under this curtain, there was another chair in the middle with a small table and a small cabinet for the coffee etc. against the far wall. The window became a doorway and there were some pots around the floor to suggest décor, with a couple of other chairs against the walls to complete the setting. It was still very drab; only the lighting suggested the Mediterranean.

Wilde spent most of the act sitting in the chair, and I heard more of his dialogue during this half. Bosie and the naked Italian fisherman lay on the bed at the start, and there was plenty on display for the early part of this scene. I didn’t follow the Italian dialogue but the intentions were pretty clear, and Bosie’s petulant rant about his own suffering, while Wilde sat there uncomplaining, served to show us the young man’s least attractive qualities. The discussion with Ross was good but lacked some of the temper which can be there, while the final scene with Bosie explaining his decision to leave was very good. The young aristocrat was unpleasantly manipulative, and his total lack of understanding was emphasised by his prophecy that Wilde’s plays would be forgotten (as if!). Basically he wanted to get back to a life of luxury which meant complying with his family’s wish that he leave Wilde altogether, so he dredged up every silly little excuse he could to make his choice seem reasonable. Wilde understood this perfectly, accepted and forgave it. It was a fitting end to their relationship, and an inevitable one.

The other performances were all fine today, though the theatricality of Bosie’s mannerism took a little getting used to. Between scenes there was a beam of light sweeping around the room which looked very odd. It was specified in the text however; for the second act it represented a lighthouse beam, though it didn’t behave like any lighthouse beam I’ve ever seen. In the first act it was just “the light” moving around in a strange way. Apart from that and the very low-key set design, the production was OK, and they did get a strong response from the audience. It’s still a good play, and I would hope to see another good production in the future.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at


The Importance Of Being Earnest – October 2011


By Oscar Wilde

Directed by Stephen Unwin

Venue: Rose Theatre, Kingston

Date: Saturday 29th October 2011

This was the Rose’s own production, and they made a good stab at this old favourite. Unfortunately the audience wasn’t ‘in the giving vein’, so some of the humour fell flat. We enjoyed ourselves and although it wasn’t the best we’ve seen, it was a well-balanced production with good performances all round.

The set was by Hayden Griffin but looked like a Simon Higlett special, with the large picture frame straddling the set. The frame’s distressed gilt finish was picked up on the door frames to left and right of the stage, and along the front of the stage as well. Algernon’s flat was furnished with a sofa and tables on the left and a heap of cushions with an upright chair and drinks table on the other side. Double doors at the back and plenty of rugs on the floor completed the scene. The garden had the table and chairs on the right – Merriman had a larger table brought out for the tea things – and a hanging branch behind the frame on the left. Cecily used a real watering can to water imaginary flowers, and the Canon and Miss Prism strolled off through the auditorium for their little perambulation. The drawing room had the usual seats, while a large bookcase centre back held the necessary reference works. It was all nice and simple and, with the elegant costumes, very effective.

Kirsty Besterman gave a lovely performance as Gwendolen; she’ll be as tough as her mother in no time. This was Jenny Rainsford’s first professional role, playing Cecily, and she did a fine job, matching the rest of the cast perfectly. Daniel Brocklebank and Bruce Mackinnon as Earnest/Jack and Algernon were not picked for the similarity of their looks – Daniel is shorter and dark, with regular features, while Bruce is much taller with lighter hair and an agile face made for comedy. Even so, their performances worked very well together.

Ishia Bennison as Miss Prism and Richard Cordery as Canon Chasuble gave nicely detailed performances in these minor roles, while Walter Van Dyk gave Merriman a Scottish accent and slicked down hair to contrast with Lane, who had fluffier hair and an English accent. I always enjoy Lane’s little dig about ‘ready money’ – this was no exception.

Of course the big question hanging over this play is how Lady Bracknell will be played. Jane Asher is almost too good-looking to play such a battleaxe, but her performance overcame that minor difficulty very well. She skipped nimbly over the ‘handbag’ hurdle to get a good run up to the ‘railway station’, which she delivered with astonishment bordering on distaste. Her predatory instincts regarding a prospective suitor’s qualities, especially those which are ‘in the funds’, were great fun to watch.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

Salome – May 2010


By Oscar Wilde

Directed by Jamie Lloyd

Company: Headlong

Venue: Richmond Theatre

Date: Wednesday 26th May 2010

We saw a production of this many years ago at the Barbican (1989). That one was directed by Steven Berkoff, who also played Herod, and the design was strongly black and white art deco with everyone except John the Baptist in evening dress. The cast moved in a smooth and stately manner, almost slow motion, and when sitting, they were almost completely still. I didn’t find it Wilde’s most enjoyable work, but it was interesting to see it staged, and there was one gem that has stayed with me. When Herod was trying to persuade Salome to take some reward other than the head of John the Baptist, he went through a long, long list of all the riches, especially the jewels, which he owned, to tempt her to change her mind. At one point, he mentioned two large emeralds, and from the look Herodias gave him at that moment, it was clear she hadn’t been brought up to speed on those particular items. Until now. It was a very subtle reaction, given that none of the actors were moving much physically, but it spoke volumes.

This was another stylised production, but today’s theme was the oh-so-fashionable industrial grunge. We both hope that directors and designers get past this phase as soon as possible. It works sometimes, but so often it just seems to be out of kilter with the play, and this was one of those times. They even used the cliché of a gangsta rap, done by one of the white boys, the lad who was attracted to Salome.

The stage was almost filled by a raised platform, which made it difficult for us to see the action properly (no complaints from us), and it was surrounded by lighting racks – like we need to be reminded we’re watching a theatrical performance. The ‘action’ started early, with actors coming on stage one at a time and prowling round, climbing the lighting racks, etc. Presumably they knew what this was meant to be about, but nobody told us. It went on so long, I started to giggle as the thought went through my head that this might be all there was. One hour and twenty-six minutes of prowling actors. Then there was a loud noise, and two blasts of steam shot in the air. Unfortunately, from where I sat, this just looked like two of the cast had done a special effects fart, so again I had the giggles.

It took me a while to settle into the performance, but after about ten minutes I started to enjoy myself a bit. The grunge disappeared into the background, and the dialogue was coming across clearly. Salome came on and pouted her way around the stage for a bit, finally demanding to speak to John, or Iokanaan as they were calling him. Her behaviour was a bit peculiar throughout this performance, very twitchy and nervy and with lots of sexual posturing. I haven’t spent much time with drug addicts, so I don’t know if that’s what they were trying to suggest, but it’s the only explanation I can come up with. Admittedly, Herod’s court had a reputation for decadence. Trouble is, if you reduce the royal court to a bunch of boozy cokeheads, it takes away from the effect of their actions.

Still, she gets some quality time with John, which she mostly spends blowing hot and cold about his physical attractiveness. I couldn’t make her out at all in this section – was she scared, was she aroused, was she angry? I haven’t a clue. Her promise that she would kiss John’s mouth was mildly chilling, but then we knew the story ahead of time.

Herod and Herodias turn up, and this is where I found sleep getting the better of me. I grasped that Herod was infatuated with Salome, and that Herodias wasn’t happy about that, and then I mercifully missed a chunk, coming to shortly before Herod asked Salome to dance for him, which she agreed to do despite her mother’s objections. Steve has confirmed I didn’t miss much.

Steve and I have pondered this version of Salome’s dance, and we’ve come to the conclusion that it was done this way to show just how much Herod was obsessed by Salome. Not only did he jerk off to her pitiful attempt at dancing (we assume he was miming) but for some reason we are probably too old to understand, Salome had done herself up in a black gauze dress, pink undies, pink makeup and a vivid pink wig. The beatbox was fine, though her attempt to turn the raising of the aerial into a seductive movement left a lot to be desired. She jerked her way unevenly between bits of a dance routine, finally going for a strip (forget the tease), and only kept her panties partially on because Herod had already come in his pants. Like I say, we weren’t complaining about the restricted view.

After this, she claimed the head of John as her reward, and after Herod’s offered her everything else he can think of, he orders his men to give her what she wants. Herodias was delighted that her daughter held her ground – no reaction here to the jewels, but then I think that part was cut. As the stage lights were turned out, the final image, held in the light of several torches, was of Salome kissing the lips of the severed head. Gruesome.

As usual, the performances were fine, we just didn’t care for the way this design choice appeared to have been used for no good reason. I also found the high-pitched voice of Herod off-putting. Steve said it reminded him of the childish gods in the first Dido he saw many years ago; he didn’t like that one, either.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

An Ideal Husband – October 2008


By Oscar Wilde

Directed by Mark Piper (original direction directed by Peter Hall)

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 10th October 2008

This was a revival of the production which toured some time ago, I believe. I thought we had seen it then, but I can’t find any sign of it in our records. Anyway, this revival showed what a good production it was, but sadly the cast didn’t quite match the standard of the original. Tony Britton, although good enough in the later scenes, especially when he could sit down, was struggling to keep up earlier on, while the amount of cosmetic surgery on display for some of the women was a bit of a distraction. Fenella Fielding, in particular, no longer has any elasticity whatsoever, and delivered her lines as carefully as though they might rip something essential. Her timing was still good though, and she got some good laughs, but the power has gone and exits and entrances have to be planned well in advance. Kate O’Mara has still got both power and agility, though her elasticity is also long gone, and the customary lying about one’s age which is so prevalent in Wilde’s work was more a case of necessity here.

Apart from these performances, the actors were still good enough for the parts, although older than one might wish in some cases. Steve reckoned the cast was about ten years too old, and I would tend to agree with that assessment. I do hate making these points, but I decided these notes would be warts-and-all, so that’s how it is. Michael Praed gave signs of being able to cope with more than he was given to do, as did Robert Duncan, and Carol Royle was fine as the morally righteous wife whose idealistic temperament is put to the test. There was good support from the other cast members, as society gents and ladies, and Isla Carter did a fine job as Mabel, the young sister who gets Lord Goring in the end. So even though the performance would have benefitted greatly from some fresh blood, we did still enjoy ourselves tonight.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at

De Profundis – June 2008


By Oscar Wilde

Directed by Ricahrd Nelson

Venue: Lyttelton Theatre

Date: Monday 16th June 2008

De Profundis is the letter written by Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas during the former’s spell in prison for loving ‘not wisely but too well’. Corin Redgrave started his performance alone on stage, dressed in scruffy and plain clothes of a modern type, but representing prison drab effectively. He scribbled furiously on his notepad, finishing the letter, before turning back to the start and reading it to us as if he were addressing the dear boy himself.

It was a moving performance, bringing out a lot of humour as well as Wilde’s own awareness of his genius, and both his love for and unhappiness with Bosie, who hasn’t called, hasn’t written, etc. I did find myself nodding a bit during the reading – Oscar does labour some of the points, and if it weren’t for the excellent delivery, he would sound like a petulant old tart at times. But Corin Redgrave’s skill lifts us out of all that.

I was very aware of the circumstances in which the letter was written, the depressing and debilitating nature of the prison regime, especially for someone like Oscar Wilde, and I also learned a great deal about their relationship which I hadn’t known before, especially the monetary cost. It was good to see that Corin was still up to this level of performance, even if his frailty is limiting what he can do physically. The audience was rightly appreciative, and many were standing at the end. Well deserved, and for a very enjoyable performance.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at

The Importance Of Being Earnest – October 2007


By: Oscar Wilde

Directed by: Michael Lunney

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Tuesday 16th October 2007

This seems to be the year for multiple productions. This production was very enjoyable, and gave us a good balanced version of the play. The two men attempting to be Ernest were well acted, with good reactions between them. Ernest/Jack was indeed very earnest, and even aspired to noble poses once or twice, while Algernon was an aristocratic ne’er-do-well, with charm and not much else. The ladies of the Ernest fan club were a bit more muted, but still well performed, with Cicely showing less sophistication in her manner, and Gwendolyn being all elegance.

Lady Bracknell was a good match for these youngsters. She carried her part off with authority, and dealt with the handbag monster by being so shocked she couldn’t even speak the word – Ernest/Jack had to do it for her. This worked very well. She recovered sufficiently after Miss Prism’s revelations to actually speak the word for Ernest later on. Miss Prism was a bit underpowered, and Tony Britton as the Reverend Chasuble appeared to be having difficulty remembering his lines fluently, which slowed things up a bit in their scenes. Still, they got across the fanning of tiny embers of love very well, and Miss Prism’s confession was still good fun. Merriman and Lane were played by the same actor, who gave Lane a predilection for sherry, and Merriman a shaking hand and a touch of deafness. The shaking hand was useful when pouring tea, and also when Jack and Algernon had a hand-gripping contest, leading them to do their own hand-shaking till Merriman appeared.

The set was simple but effective, with a doorway at the rear, and two disconnected walls or balustrades either side. The backdrop gave us the setting each time, with the London scene being particularly impressive. The costumes were excellent, especially Lady Bracknell’s blue travelling number.

I was impressed with the detail in the production. When Algernon is chatting with his aunt on one sofa, Ernest/Jack and Gwendolyn are on the other, sitting as if they don’t have a thing to say to each other, and making it quite clear that they’re longing for a rampant clinch as soon as possible. They tried sneaking their hands together, but Lady Bracknell was ever alert, and soon stopped their canoodling. There were various examples of this extra working, and I had to be on my toes to get it all. No nodding off tonight! Algernon’s piano playing was also very good, in that it was so obviously bad. The first piece I didn’t recognise, but his attempts at The Wedding March were pretty atrocious, scarcely recognisable, and much enjoyed. One of the better productions at the Connaught this year.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

The Importance Of Being Earnest – September 2007


By: Oscar Wilde

Directed by: Peter Gill

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 24th September 2007

This was a little disappointing. With Penelope Keith being the main attraction we were worried it might be a star vehicle, and although it wasn’t quite that bad, it did seem to have been let down a bit by the strange emphasis on Victorian cultural references. By this I mean that on several occasions I found myself thinking how topical a line would have been in Wilde’s day, probably hot off the press, but as I didn’t know the background, I couldn’t find it particularly funny. I had read the program notes, so some lines made more sense, but there were others that I was still clueless about.

Still, there was a lot to enjoy, mainly because Wilde’s writing is so good that no production can keep it down for long. I found the men a bit dull in the opening scene. Although they’d been well cast to resemble each other, they didn’t have much sparkle, and made up for it by being brisk, which doesn’t really help. The women, however, were splendid (and had better costumes, of course). This Gwendolyn will be a magnificent match for Lady Bracknell in a relatively short time, and Cecily was as conceited a romantic little bunny as one could wish to find in Hertfordshire. The parson was good and Miss Prism was excellent – I’ve never seen a better performance of the part. Penelope Keith was good enough as Lady Bracknell, although she was probably the worst for losing lines – delivering them in as inconspicuous a way as possible, just in case we enjoyed them.

With this strange direction, the play lost some of its sparkle, but rose above the difficulties many times. Even knowing what line is about to come doesn’t spoil it. I remain impressed with Wilde’s work, and dubious about the motives behind this production. However, we’re seeing another touring production later this year, so it will be interesting to compare notes.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at