The Taming of Something So Wilde
Any gay man worth his salt should know about Oscar Wilde. Irreverent, decadent, intelligent, humorous and articulate – he was the 19th century Lily Savage meets Julian Clary meets Dusty O.
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However, In Extremis at The King’s Head Theatre in Islington is a play about Oscar Wilde which views one of our greatest playwrights through the eyes of someone outside his usual playground which featured Lady Bracknell and Lord Bosie Douglas...
Mrs. Robinson is a 19th Century palm reader working out of her home at 53 Mortimer Street, W1. Yet Mrs. Robinson is on our side and, knowing that her audience is now seeing the events of one specific evening over a century on, she reveals secrets that she took to the grave leading to each and every one of us checking our own hand for clues to the future.
Oscar Wilde is troubled. He is facing a life-changing decision and he seeks reassurance from a stranger who practices ‘the scientific art of palmestry’. However, Mrs. Robinson lets the audience into a secret – she has a trick or two up her sleeve, but still believes that she has a gift.
Faced with the choice of fight or flight, Oscar Wilde hangs on the every word of his highly recommended new ally, while blissfully unaware of the fact that they are approaching the same issue from alternative sides. The dialogue flicks effortless between monologues, a seemless two-hander and descriptions of day-to-day events. The script is descriptive, luxurious and sensual – ‘a little peace and quiet, and a lot of maroon plush, never did anyone any harm I find’ instantly provides a sense of the room we are plunged into. The costumes are equally sumptuous and effective.
Kate Copeland is a delight as Mrs. Robinson. She shows her talent for delivering engaging monologues at the start of the play, effortlessly providing the audience with information and entertainment at the same time. Not only does the audience learn about the attitudes of the era, but we are educated in the art of palmistry in a descriptive and enjoyable way – thanks to Ms. Copeland’s enthusiasm and apparent knowledge on the matter.
Ms. Copeland describes her thoughts as Mrs. Robinson with infectious aplomb and punctuates certain sentences with ‘I said’ or ‘I should have said, but didn’t’ and this is mirrored by Oscar Wilde later in the play. Both are used to great effect – who hasn’t found themselves wishing they’d come up with that witty one-liner when the moment has passed?
Nigel Fairs has the type of bone structure that Oscar Wilde could have only dreamed of – his expressive face, chisled jaw line, razor edged cheekbones and broad shouldered body could stop traffic in Soho. Having seen sketches of a dark-haired, long faced Oscar Wilde it does take a few minutes to accept such a strikingly handsome man in the role, but those are definitely some well spent few minutes when given the view. Yet, once the dominance changes from Mrs. Robinson’s monologue at the start of the play to a two-hander later on, Oscar Wilde quickly acquires Nigel Fairs film star good looks – suddenly they are completely believable thanks to Mr Fairs ability to command the role.
To be frank - Nigel Fairs is hot and he can act, so it's worth the price of a ticket for that if nothing else.
This is a production that informs, entertains and provokes thought in equal measure. If you don’t know much about the trail of Oscar Wilde then this is the play to ignite your interest – being short, lively and witty, you don’t have to be a fan of ‘literature’ to enjoy this production.
In Extremis – The King’s Head Theatre, Upper Street, London N1. Until 9 December 2012, Box Office: 0207 478 0160
Words: Matthew Christian
Photo: John Godwin