Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Paying tribute to genius

Meeting Oscar: Sue Downing, Matt Preece, Ross Workman (minus Oscar wig) and Colin Young

To Meet Oscar Wilde

The Nonentities

Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


EVERY so often there comes along a production which takes theatre beyond ordinary or even good into the realms of the exceptional – and Oscar Wilde himself would no doubt have seen this studio play as a triumph.

If Ross Workman treads the boards until he is 90 he will hard pushed to produce a better performance than this, his Wilde is simply magnificent. It is studied, eloquent and measured with flashes of anger, depths of despair and moments of compassion - and, bewigged, he even bears a resemblance to the glittering rising and then falling star.

The stentorian Colin Young gives wonderful support in a variety of roles from friends, such as the journalist  and brothel creeper Frank Harris and Lord Evelyn,to prison governors, chaplain and warders, judges, QCs and even a simple minded prisoner, each role and character not only different but, more important, seen to be different.

Equally populating the stage is Sue Downing, who is there as actress Penelope Dyall as Oscar opens the play with his lecture but appears as society hostesses, mother, vitriolic crowd and wife.

Matt Preece is a fine Bosie, Lord Alfred Douglas, the spoilt, extravagant, hedonistic son of the Marquis of Queensberry, he of boxing's Queensberry rules, who was to be the cause of Oscar's downfall, persuading Wilde to sue for libel when Queensberry left him a note calling him a somdomite (sic).

With Wilde's lifestyle where he was no stranger to male brothels and prostitutes it was a high stakes decision. Lose and the door opened wide for charges on homosexual acts, and so it proved as Wilde was arrested on charges of gross indecency – a lesser charge than might have been applied..

Preece is also takes on multi-parts including a prisoner, and a warder in Reading Goal.

We have a fascination with Wilde who perhaps is only second to Shakespeare for the number of memorable quotes he left behind to enrich the English language.


He was a star who had reached the heavens with witty plays such as Lady WIndermere's Fan, his first and The Importance of Being Earnest, his last. He wrote poetry, a novel – The Picture of Dorian Gray – short stories, a political treatise and even fairy stories with The Happy Prince and Other Stories.

He was the toast of society, witty, charming, and the most sought after guest for any soiree or salon so his fall from grace was spectacular and one from which he was never to recover, dying penniless in Hôtel d'Alsace, a cheap, run down, hotel in Paris, the city where he is buried.

Norman Holland's play takes the form of a lecture by Wilde recounting and explaining his life, rather like the 50,000 word letter he wrote to Bosie which was published by his friend Robert Ross as the De Profundis; it is claimed it was Ross initiated Wilde into homosexual sex.

The lecture becomes scenes from Wilde's life all within the intimate space of the Rose Theatre and the cast should also be congratulated on recognising the audience was on three sides and playing to that.

The black box staging was simple but effective; a small table and two chairs, a black dais covered in Wilde quotes picked out in white, a lectern and a chaise longue, while lighting, from Murray Bridges and Joe Harper, and sound by Derek Taylor, separated the scenes.

This is Marika Farr's first venture as main director with The Nonentities and it is an impressive debut, keeping up a good pace in a production which develops its own comfortable rhythm carried along by a marvellous cast.

There is inevitable humour in a script packed with Wilde quotes but ultimately it is a tragedy of a broken life which left a wife and two sons in its wake in a world where any hint of homosexuality, at least publically, made you n outcast.

Wilde's last published piece was the poignant poem, The Ballad of Reading Goal where he was incarcerated for two years with hard labour – where a harsh regime, at least until a change of governor, meant he earning no remission.

Wilde in the play quotes from the poem about despair and the hanging of a prisoner for murder. It perhaps explains Wilde's imprisonment better than any play. (Click here to read the poem)

Forget this is an amateur production. This is exceptional theatre by any standards. See it.

Roger Clarke 

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