Review by David Munro
LAST night (October 19, 2004), the newly refurbished, and very
comfortable, Shaw Theatre re-opened with Mike
Read’s musical, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the
birth of the poet –dramatist Oscar Wilde.
Mr Read’s version of Wilde’s life and times has been
given the imprimatur of Mr Wilde’s grandson , Merlin Holland,
who has contributed a note to the programme emphasising that the
intention is to show Wilde as a family man.
This the show attempts to do, skating over the more unsavoury
aspects of his life and giving us scenes of his reading to his
children and with his wife, Constance.
Nonetheless, the fact that he spent a great deal of his life
apart from the family cannot be ignored, so the major part of
the evening is, as one would expect, concerned with his relationship
to Lord Alfred Douglas, the trials, his life in prison and the
retreat to France away from his family.
All this is illustrated by little musical vignettes culminating
in a choral credo in which all the cast join stating Wilde’s
views on life and the future.
Does the concept work? Yes and no; there are strong performances
from Peter Blake, as Wilde, and Anita Louise Combe, as Constance,
a depiction of the Marquis of Queensberry, by Christopher Corcoran,
which although dramatically strong, ignores the fact that the
Marquis was as mad as a hatter, and a Lord Alfred Douglas, in
Jonathan Tatum, who looks the part but somehow misses the evil
deviousness of the original.
The musical score consists mainly of point numbers and ballads.
Unfortunately, my programme is missing the page listing the numbers
so I cannot identify them specifically.
Peter Blake has a very haunting ballad to Alfred Douglas –
Dear Boy - and Constance has two equally strong songs;
the first before he goes to prison and the other during his period
inside, which are beautifully sung by Anita Louise Combe, and
which will be more effective when she does not have to struggle
against the vagaries of the Shaw’s amplification system.
The action, directed by Mike Read,
is played out on a bare stage in front of the orchestra with the
simplest of props - chairs, stools and a table which have to represent,
home, hotel rooms, mining camps, courtrooms, prison etc, a device
which works well given the episodic nature of the script.
This really falls into two parts. The first act is a reasonably
straightforward depiction of Wilde’s home and public life
leading up to the trials and conviction.
The majority of the second act takes places during his incarceration
and consists of flashbacks to other episodes in his life and his
relationship with Douglas. It is the stronger of the two.
Had Mr Read been content to use straightforward dialogue and
possibly more direct quotations from Wilde himself, the evening
would have been more pleasurable and historically more accurate.
As it is, he lapses at times, particularly during the trial scenes,
into rhyming couplets, some of which would sound out of place
in a provincial pantomime, which gives an air of shoddiness and
cheap claptrap to a lot of the episodes.
The cast work hard, doubling up as barristers, rent boys, prostitutes,
members of Society and Wilde’s friends where necessary and
are, on the whole, effective although I did find the ploy of the
parade of rent boys at the trial, being, for the most part, played
by one man with a change of hats, somewhat risible.
In short, the curate's egg – good in parts, although I
did not find the sum of the parts added up to a satisfactory whole.
A lot of it is, however, worth preserving, in particular the
performances of Peter Blake and Anita Louise Combe, and I will
certainly buy the CD if one is produced.
In the meanwhile, the production as a whole cannot be entirely
written off as there is enough in Mr Read’s concept to make
an interesting evening if you are prepared to take the good with
I leave it to you to make your own mind up – you might
find it a worthwhile decision.
Oscar Wilde - Book Lyrics and Music by Mike Read; Director,
Mike Read; Costumes, Deboreh Bowen; Musical Director, Steve Innes-Etherington.
Presented by Mike Read in association with the Shaw Theatre.
CAST: Peter Blake; Anita Louise Combe; Christopher Corcoran; Jon
De Ville; Jonathn Tatum; Sarah Redmond; Frank Owen; Craig Nicholls;
Shaw Theatre, 100-110 Euston Road, London, NW1 2AJ.
October 19, 2004.
Evenings: Tues – Sat 7.30pm / Matinees - Sat & Sun 3.30pm.
Box Office: 0870 033 2600.