The Judas Kiss

THE-JUDAS-KISS

It was long accepted after his performance in the 1995 movie Wilde, that Stephen Fry had given the ultimate portrayal of Oscar Wilde. But after witnessing Rupert Everett’s stunning performance in the current revival ofThe Judas Kiss, it would appear Mr Fry has some stiff competition.

Wilde has long been accepted as the martyr of homosexuality, and here in David Hare’s excellent play, the religious analogy is spelled out clearly. As he awaits arrest in the Cadogan Hotel, it is clear that the love of men is Wilde’s religion, in which he is both ahead of his time and unapologetic. He choses to stand trial and punishment, rather than fleeing into exile, to be forgotten forever. He explains ‘If I leave now, my story is over. If I stay, the story continues.’ Indeed, Wilde’s legacy is as much about his historic trial and conviction, as it is about his rich body of literature. The hotel is Wilde’s garden of Gethsemane, where he has been cruelly abandoned by the men who followed him in his years of glory.

Freddie Fox makes an impeccable Bosie – Lord Alfred Douglas – the young aristocrat whose relationship with Wilde was the toxic element that led to his downfall. His temper, arrogance, and utter disregard for others are presented here as they have been in scores of biographical accounts. Wilde was blinded by his beauty, and forgiving of his wicked nature. Their relationship was tempestuous and destructive, and by betraying Wilde for his own ends, before leaving him to face the mob alone, he is quite obviously the Judas of the play’s title.

THE JUDAS KISS FF

Freddie Fox makes an impeccable Bosie in the production.

The second act is set in Naples, where Wilde is exiled after his two years in prison. Reunited with Bosie, he now lives in poverty, in deep contrast with the lavish lifestyle he enjoyed in Victorian London. Suffering from writer’s block, he blames Bosie for eroding something greater than his life – his art. Once again, in his hour of need, Bosie leaves him to return to England. Despite spending the act frolicking around with a naked Italian fisherman – a worthy attraction in itself – Bosie believes he can ‘give it up at anytime’, and insists he’s ‘not an invert’. It is then that Wilde recalls movingly the biblical account of Christ. ‘Judas was practically a stranger. It would have been more artistically true if Christ had been betrayed by John: because he was the one he loved the most.’

There is no doubt as to who the star of this show is. Everett triumphs as Wilde. Dressed to look every bit as large and flamboyant as the legend himself, he captures the stage with his arrival, and lights it up with every line. Everett has had a lifetime of preparation for this, playing Wilde’s own dandies, and their great modern equivalent – the gay best friend. The audience marvels as he recites in the manner we imagine Wilde did: every monologue rich with observation and unrivalled intellect; every retort delivered with legendary wit and wisdom. But more importantly, this story is about the forgotten years of Wilde. This is a man who was a star of the academic world, the toast of the London stage, a celebrity before celebrities existed – and yet he ended his days in disrepute, poverty, and loneliness, deprived of his lovers, his children, and his ability to write. Performing Wilde’s comedy is one thing, but Everett delivers his painful tragedy.

There is a consensus that Rupert Everett has been sold short in his career – typecast because of his decision to be openly gay. In many ways, it makes him a suitable successor to Wilde’s philosophy. But if there is any justice for talent, this will mark the beginning of a new period of theatrical roles for Everett, for which he is more able than many of his contemporaries. Although Wilde is his specialist subject, and this performance was bound to be outstanding, it opens a door that should lead to his greatest years yet.

The Judas Kiss plays at the Duke of York Theatre, London until 6 April 2013. Tickets start at £15.

This review appeared originally on SoSoGay online.

Advertisements

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

How To Succeed In Business Without Really trying is a musical from the man who brought us Guys and Dolls, but it’s become the lesser known of the two. It’s experiencing a new lease of life since its 50th anniversary Broadway revival last year, with Daniel Radcliffe taking the lead role, and now the Centre Stage theatre company have performed the show this week at the Bridewell Theatre, in the heart of the City of London, under the skilled direction of Dom O’Hanlon.

The heavy lead role of Finch was carried well by Benjamin Long who managed to strike the balance between simple and cunning that makes this character very entertaining – but he isn’t over-played. He’s in good company with his rival Bud Frump – played by Matt Hudson – and his one time boss Mr Twinble – played by Kevin Sherwin – who secures an early triumph with his performance of ‘The Company Way’. The female characters certainly look the part – even in the unfortunate scene where they all turn up in the same ‘Paris original’ dress. But of all the attractive secretaries and sexy mistresses, it’s the more sober Miss Jones, played by Mimi Kroll, who steals the spotlight. Comical in her sheer movements, she owns the humour written in the lines and then rounds it all off with a star performance of ‘Brotherhood of Man’ towards the end of the show.

The score is rich, and the ensemble were strong, and well used throughout. Clever use of blinds and office compartment walls make for well choreographed group numbers, and unlike many similar productions I’ve seen before, the show is not reliant on a few strong leads. The company performance of ‘Coffee Break’ is a stand out moment, describing the horror of an office who runs out of the black stuff – enjoyed by many in the audience who related to the work culture, even 50 years after the show was written and set.

Having seen Centre Stage productions of The Wedding Singer, Zanna Don’t, as well as their Halloween cabaret last year, I can safely say this is their best effort of the past few years. Look out for their future performances at The Bridewell Theatre.

Follow the Centre Stage company on Facebook or on Twitter.

Jesus Christ Superstar @ The O2

Jesus Christ Superstar is finally being performed as a rock show, in arenas around the country, just like the good Lord (Webber that is) envisioned when he wrote it in 1970. And with a big budget, an all star cast and a Jesus voted for by the nation (take a bow Ben Forster) it has more potential than he ever could have dreamed of when the idea popped into his hippie haired head way back when. And considering that in 40 years modern dress has been done, done and done again, he’s also lucky to have the Occupy movement and the banking crisis to use as a fitting conceptual setting. The show opens with news footage of riots across the Eurozone, mixed with imaginary news reports discussing the more specific threat of Jesus and the 12; all played out on the large stage screen upon which the whole production is hugely dependent. #itsallverymodern

My excitement at seeing the production was largely about hearing the music I’ve known and loved most of my life, played out in a grand setting – and that didn’t disappoint. As the overture struck up, the music reverberated under every seat, and wailing guitars filled the room. Nothing weird or wacky, no drastically new arrangements – the music sounded just as good as ever. First up for judgement is Tim Minchin, whose brand of dreads and guy liner has clearly inspired the costumes of the rest of the cast. He puts a pretty basic spin on Judas – arguably the main man of the show. He hits all the right notes but his lyrics are occasionally blurred. ‘Heaven On Their Minds’ was great, but ‘Superstar’ – typically sung by Judas from the future – was confusing giving the modern setting of the show, and most of the lyrics would have been lost if you didn’t already know them. Mel C’s performance as Mary Magdalene wasn’t perfect either, with her distinctive pop vocals always on the edge of revealing her Liverpudlian accent, but largely she did a good job, and gave a striking visual. Most people will probably go home with her rendition of stand-out anthem ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ prominent in their heads.

Chris Moyles was well received by the audience, as I feared he would be… His performance as King Herod (which, for Jesus virgins, constitutes a 4 minute appearance on stage) was comfortably enough, just him being himself. He didn’t sing half as well as we’ve heard him sing on various novelty outings before, and his sarcastic tone managed to come across as bored and patronising. The ‘TV talk show-cum-talent show’ setting of this song would be tacky in any other context, but just about pulled through considering the overall concept behind this production. Asking the audience to vote for whether Jesus was a Lord or a Fraud was done with the collective tongue firmly in cheek.

Voted for by the viewers of ITV1’s ‘Superstar’ earlier this year, Ben Forster took the lead role, and pulled it off without a hitch. His rendition of showstopper ‘Gethsemane’ was my stand out moment of the night, and received the biggest ovation. It also has to be said that he was one of the few people on stage who remembered that this show is to be acted as well as sung – obviously upstaging the less experienced celebrities performing with him. Plus, I’m sure even the least musical audience members will have been impressed by his strong falsetto…since there isn’t really anyone out there now who doesn’t know what that is (thank you Saturday night talent shows).

However, I fear that the challenges posed by performing in an arena were not achieved by the creatives. The music sounded great – but in the grandeur of the O2 Arena, the production looked too small – too contained within the traditional stage. Having witnessed in-the-round spectacles and various stage settings in this same venue, put on by far lesser producers of pop shows, I had hoped for a bit more from Lloyd Webber here. Even the much-used video screen behind the stage was small in comparison to the size of the room. For some of the tickets to have cost £90, I fear this kind of theatrical experience wasn’t worth the money. Overall, that was my only real criticism here – but because it was the one thing I was expecting to differ from other JCS productions, it was a considerable let down. That said, listening to one of the greatest musical scores played live by a great band, headed by a perfect Jesus, as loud as you could possibly want – is only ever going to be a pleasure.

Top Hat

There’s nothing like a bit of nostalgia to make for a good night at the theatre, and Top Hat is as good as that gets at the moment. I haven’t yet seen the musical adaptation of Singin In The Rain (despite citing the movie as my all time favourite), but I couldn’t resist revisiting the glam of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers through this adaptation of the 1935 screwball musical that became one of they greatest cinematic treasures of all time.

The first thing to strike me in the show was the dancing – and rightly so. We are treated to the choreography of Bill Deamer in all its glory from the opening number ‘Puttin On The Ritz’. The dancers are highly technical and polished in the various tap routines, and lend themselves perfectly to the stylistically various vignettes. As leading men go, Tom Chambers has the charm, the looks, and – to quote Cole Porter – “the nimble tread of the feet of Fred Astaire” – but in keeping with the great dance master, his vocals leave a lot to be desired. Summer Strallen, on the other hand, furnishes the piece with a beautiful vocal that matches her vintage brand of beauty. It’s worth it to see her alone.

There was a marked difference in tone between the first and second acts – with the first completely living up to the classy spectacle of the original movie, and the second becoming something a bit closer to farce. The sets, costume, dancing and music remained absolutely gorgeous, but the plot becomes suddenly more comedic and outrageous in the second act as mistaken identities, cross dressing and averting disaster become more prominent themes than the wistful romance of the beginning. It’s not a bad thing, but just a very striking polarisation.

If you’re a fan of the original film, or of the Fred and Ginger brand on the whole, you won’t be disappointed by this adaptation. Or, if you’re just looking for a night at the theatre that relives the elegance, music and comedy of the classic Hollywood era, then look no further than here.

Top Hat is on at the Aldwych Theatre in London now.

Noises Off

Incorporating all the classic elements of farce, Noises Off ranks as one of the best British comedies ever written. The new production by LIndsay Posner at the Old Vic is as good a performance of the Michael Frayn script as you can hope to see. Celia Imrie and Amy Nuttall provide a touch of star quality but it’s every man for himself in this raucous romp through the perils of a fast-paced farce, which we get to see rather unusually, from the other side of the stage. All of the behind the scenes action is only made more manic by the off-stage relationships between the actors which gradually break down as the play progresses across the three acts. Expect plenty of slamming doors, mistaken identities, and the unexplained presence of sardines, but all in all it’s one of the best laughs you could hope to have over this winter theatre season.

Noises Off is on at The Old Vic in London until 10 March 2012.

Jerusalem

I shall freely admit that my trip to see Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem – currently enjoying a post-Broadway return to London – was purely to see what all the fuss was about. On account of the run being completely sold out, I settled for day seats, given away each morning at 10am, for the small price of £10, and a few hours in the cold; which my iPhone informed me was somewhere around 5 degrees celsius (40 Farenheit for any U.S. readers). Getting to the theatre shortly before 8am, I realised I may already have been too late, as a queue of about 20 people snaked before me, headed by a smug group of men claiming to have been there since 5am. Indeed the box office told me 6am was the standard arrival time for a successful queuer. The gentleman behind me had already tried queuing once, as had his son; the lady behind him was there because friends told her she “must see it”, and a lady from New York told a gripping story to the group about meeting Mark Rylance (the star of the show) at a party and getting to touch his Tony (not a euphemism I assure you). Anticipation mounted, and by the time I successfully attained my pair of tickets, I was expecting some serious entertainment.

Arriving at the Apollo Theatre later that evening, I felt somewhat cheated by what I had queued for – front row balcony seats (effectively the 4th floor of a narrow but tall Edwardian theatre) which were restricted not only by low seats and a high bar in front of them, but also by lighting rigs which obstructed the view to the stage. Indeed some combination of height sickness and claustrophobia forced my plus one to relocate to a seat near the door with the usher mid way through the first act. (A regular theatre critic, you can read his glowing review here: http://www.apollotheatrelondon.co.uk/jerusalem).

There is no denying that Jerusalem is slow to start. A lengthy first act appears to offer little more than a snapshot depiction of some lower class undesirables in rural England; at first, Mark Rylance’s award-winning performance was on no higher plane than David Threlfall’s continued portrayal of Frank Gallagher in Channel 4’s Shameless, and indeed that provides something of a benchmark for the kind of comedy and subject matter the play explores. His character, Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron is something of a social rebel; living in a caravan, defying the council and the world at large, and providing a party haven for the youths of the local town. Set across one day, we see him facing an eviction which he attempts to dodge; inevitably evoking the Dale Farm scenario. Having premiered as recently as 2009, this state-of-the-nation play is current and full of contemporary references; refreshing in the midst of the many classics the West End usually puts on. But by the time the first interval came around, I wasn’t alone in wondering just what all the fuss was about.

Then, the second and third acts open up, and the scene begins to unravel and show unexpected depth of narrative. Rooster is revealed as something of a martyr, symbolic of a lost cause, a victim of his own failed ideals. There are moments of gruesome violence, unsettling verbal abuse, and tender moments between he and his son, and with the young Phaedra which feel much more raw than theatre. The narrative is a patchwork of scenes, and the other characters only serve to assist the explosion of Rooster as a character. His plight is something which the audience must interpret for themselves – it is a task, and I have no shame in admitting it was one with which I struggled.

In spite of the immediate amazement that comes from witnessing Rylance’s memorable performance, I feel Jerusalem is a play which requires some consideration before it can be fully appreciated. It is likely a modern masterpiece, but its themes are so vast, and its implications so profound, that it is difficult to grasp even in the 3 hours 20 minutes of performance. If you enjoy modern theatre, definitely see it now; you’ll have plenty of time to think about it later.

Jerusalem runs at the Apollo Theatre, London until 14 January. Day seats are available every day at the box office at 10am.