Ginger Hibiscus | Review by Ginger Hibiscus | The Trials of Oscar Wilde
Review by Ginger Hibiscus | The Trials of Oscar Wilde West End Transfer at the Trafalgar Studios
Review by Ginger Hibiscus | The Trials of Oscar Wilde
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16 Oct REVIEW: The Trials of Oscar Wilde

“14 February 1895 was the triumphant opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest, and was the zenith of Oscar Wilde’s career. Less than 100 days later he found himself a common prisoner, sentenced to two years hard labour. But what happened during the trials? What did Wilde say? Was he harshly treated? Or was he the author of his own downfall?”

The Trials of Oscar Wilde is a play that poses – never attempting to answer – the question of Oscar Wilde’s “crimes.” It considers whether something can really be wrong by virtue of its illegality alone. It challenges the justice system’s dependence on semantics and rhetoric. It shines an uncomfortable light on how people with contrasting values interpret identical behaviour differently.

The questions explode from two of the first ever “celebrity” trials, which commence amidst a media frenzy redolent of that outside the High Court in Pretoria, for an altogether different Oscar (and altogether different accusation). In the production, as in his life, Wilde takes the stand firstly in prosecution of Lord Queensbury for libel, and then later in defence of himself, against charges of sodomy and gross indecency, the former laying the context for the latter. It’s an interesting and wholly successful structure, playing into both the theatricality of the piece and the necessity to create a story, without being unfaithful to what really happened, or casting too many accusations on any of the other characters, who are, just like Wilde, put across as complete people trying to “do the right thing,” even if we disagree with them.

In the courtroom, the audience is the jury. Sat in our red seats opposite the defendants, the stripped-back set of just a table and some chairs is incredibly effective at extending the stage to where we are, empowering us to make up our own minds and appreciate the complexity of jural decisions, as well as asking us to try to answer those questions ourselves.

Co-written by John O’Connor and Merlin Holland, Oscar Wilde’s grandson, the simplicity of setting and staging permit the script to shine through. Based on real court transcripts, Wilde’s words take centre stage, impregnated with his trademark sharpness, wit, and lexical artistry. Handed the challenge of delivering this, John Gorick as Wilde achieves mesmerising delivery, bringing alive genuine courtroom drama, and keeping the audience entranced despite static staging.

To create such an accessible yet challenging, intellectual, funny and important piece is a triumph in itself. Though at times a bit long and a bit stationary, it captures the essence of the oft-quoted writer and poet, and considers what happens when legality, morality and belief are misaligned. It’s certainly a play that makes you think for yourself and challenge the accepted wisdom- and for that, it is certainly recommended.

For tickets and information:
Dates: Showing until 8th November 2014
Location: Trafalgar Studios

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here