Sunday, 1 August 2021

REVIEW: Wilde Without the Boy at the King’s Head Theatre

Queer season at the King’s Head Theatre kicked off in sentimental style with Gareth Armstrong’s Wilde Without the Boy. 

A dramatized adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis”, the letter he wrote to his lover before his release from Reading Gaol, Wilde Without the Boy has everything you’d want from a spurned lover’s letter… and so much more. 

Yes, Gerard Logan’s Wilde is a tortured artist, yes, his hamartia is simply loving too much, but he’s also angry, spiteful and full of regret. Logan traverses this complex character with ease and introspection, flying from nostalgia to rage as the script meanders Wilde’s innermost turmoil. Although he was alone, the stage was full. Not only was the boy, his lover, vivid before the audience, but his vengeful father, jailor and judge all walked the boards with him. 

The subtle manipulation of set and props (two chairs, a table, a lantern and a manuscript) took us from high society London to Paris, and right back to the realisation that we are in solitude; alone in Reading Gaol. The sound and lighting design was similarly transportive, moving so subtly with the narrative that you didn’t know it was there until it was gone, once again plunged back into the reality of Wilde’s isolation. 

Although both source material and setting are settled in the late 19th Century, the play, as a palimpsest, rests gently above the narrative of the LGBT+ community today. Wilde’s punishment, thankfully, is no longer a reality in the UK, but his love, and equally his fear, lives still. Wilde Without the Boy does not linger on the reason for Oscar’s imprisonment, it rather tells a tumultuous love story, stained with the realisation that it is for this love that he lost his freedom. The audience is reminded that we are not out of the woods yet. 

This was a beautifully staged, poignant reading of one of the greatest love letters ever written, and it confidently launches what is set to be an outstanding Queer Season at the King’s Head. 

Review by Anna Smith

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: B13 | Price of Ticket: £12

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