With a stage draped in rich, chocolate-coloured velvet there were two thoughts in my head, well three actually. Firstly, how sumptuous; secondly, someone is bound to trip or slip (Rupert Everett did) and, thirdly, where does one go about getting a piece of velvet that colour and of that size (not that I want some, just curious).
The velvet forms the back drop for a posh London hotel room where David Hare's play The Judas Kiss charts the tempestuous relationship between playwright and poet Oscar Wilde (Everett) and Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas (Freddie Fox) at two key points in their lives.
In the first half, the velvet half, Wilde is holed up in the hotel with the press gathering outside and rumours of his imminent arrest for sodomy and gross indecency circling, having got into a spat with Bosie's father. On one side his friend Robbie Ross (Cal Macaninch) is trying to persuade him to flee abroad instead of the almost certainty that he'll end up in prison.
On the other, Bosie wants him to stay and fight for his name and reputation believing that if he lives out the rest of his life in exile he and his work will quickly be forgotten. Bosie also hates his father and doesn't want him to win.
In the second half the action moves to Naples post Wilde's imprisonment. The chocolate velvet is replaced with a gauzy white material which gathers on the floor around a single bed at the back of the stage (less to trip over) where we find Bosie in a post-coital slumber with a local fisherman. Let's just say that when the two awaken there is more than a little 'cheekiness' on display with the men feeling very relaxed in their surroundings and Wilde drinking in the view.
When Robbie visits on behalf of of Wilde's wife who is threatening to cut him off if he doesn't give up Bosie, Wilde refuses. When Bosie is faced with an offer of a substantial living for doing the same to Wilde his decision is telling.
Wilde and Bosie's relationship is fascinating and Hare's play only really scratches the surface. Wilde isn't so much blindly in love and loving blindly but an engineer of his own downfall choosing to ignore what he can plainly see.
Fox's Bosie is bratish, prone to hysterics, spoilt and self-important and in his manner towards his older lover hints of surrogate father-son relationship. Everett's Wilde is erudite, witty, gentlemanly but with a hint of neediness but I'm not sure he totally convinces. There are times when it feels like an impersonation of Wilde, a very good impersonation, rather than truly inhabiting the character.
There is much to enjoy about The Judas Kiss, not least the 'cheekiness' and Hare's script exudes the wit and passion you'd expect from the subject matter. You do have to feel for the actors having to consciously watch each foot step on the velvet - apparently they were sliding all over the place during rehearsals. It's not perfect but it is funny and occasionally moving and I thought about it a lot since so it's getting four and a half stars.
The Judas Kiss runs at the Hampstead Theatre until Oct 13.
For a second opinion, I'm not offended - honestly, @polyg's thoughts are here.