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

Lady Mandrake and OScar

Zofja Zolna, complete with quizzing glass, as society hostess Lady Mandrake welcoming Oscar Wilde. Pictures: Roy Palmer

To meet Oscar Wilde

Hall Green Little Theatre


THESE days the word celebrity is much overused; it seems to apply to anyone who has ever been on telly as well as that strange breed who are famous for . . . well, nothing really, famous merely for being famous.

At the end of the 19th century it was Oscar Wilde who was the celebrity of the age, and for good reason.

He was a poet, essayist and wit who held court wherever he went, he was also a novelist, short story and children’s fairy story writer and was the most popular playwright of the time with productions such as Lady Windermere’s Fan, A woman of no importance and An ideal husband delighting audiences.

His final triumph, The Importance of Being Earnest, was four days ros daviesold when the Marquis of Queensbury set in motion the train of events which were to destroy Wilde and see him jailed for two years with hard labour for his homosexuality.

Society hostesses vied with each other to invite him to soirees, dinners, receptions . . . and if successful in landing him, added To meet Oscar Wilde in the corner of invitations as a sort of badge of honour - and ensuring no invitee would turn down the chance to meet such a glittering, flamboyant personality.

Ros Davies who stepped in at the last minute because of illness

Norman Holland’s clever three-hander starts with Wilde giving a lecture, a popular Victorian pursuit, to tell the story of his life, but the tale is made real as key scenes are renacted.

Jon Richardson perhaps lacks the arrogant flamboyance and flair of the supremely confident Wilde at the peak of his powers in the opening but when the inevitable sees Wilde first demeaned in court and then incarcerated in jail Richardson comes into his own, wearing Wilde’s anguish like a well-fitting cloak. A bleak Victorian prison must have been Dante’s Inferno made flesh for a man such as Wilde.

And perhaps here it should be mentioned that the theatrical gods who deserted Wilde have not been kind to Hall Green either, with Andrew Cooley, who was to play all the male parts, struggling through Saturday’s performance with a failing voice which had faded completely by Monday which meant lighting operator Ros Davies stepped in.

Ros had been rehearsal prompt, so had some knowledge of the play, but even so to step in at the last minute, a woman to play all the men, with no time for a rehearsal, is the stuff of nightmares. Inevitably it had to affect the dynamics of the play, something that could not be avoided, and which, invariably, makes reviewing difficult, but in truth she faced the challenge quite magnificently  with her script hidden in a ledger that served much of the time as a prop.

She had 13 roles to play from Lord Evelyn, who organised the lecture to Lord Queensbury, who was to accuse him of homosexuality leading to his dowZofja Zolnanfall and Queensbury’s spoiled brat of a son Bosie; from convicts and prison governors to barristers and judges, and she gave each one its own voice, accent and demeanour.

Equally skilled in her multi-tasking of roles was Zofja Zolna who opened as the celebrated actress Miss Penelope Dyall and gave us society ladies, eager beaver female reporters, Wilde’s mother and his demoralised wife, Constance, a woman living with both Wilde’s homosexual infidelity and, subsequently, the shunning and pointed fingers of shame after his conviction for gross indecency. A euphemism for homosexuality, then a crime that shocked society and made those convicted a pariah.

Zofja Zolna as Constance Wilde, who changed her name to Holland. His two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan, were never to see their father again.

It is essentially a three hander, although Luke Ellinor made a brief appearance as a newspaper boy, telling us to read all about Wilde’s sensational trial, and director Amanda Grant has kept the set down to a minimum, with characterisations achieved by change of voice and bearing and modest accessories, such as a quizzing glass, or fox stole, different hats or barristers and judges wigs.

Based on fact Richardson shows us the descent of one of the most famous literary figures in history from feted celebrity to the shunned and shamed gay ex-con who was to write little more and you are left to wonder what Wilde might have achieved had fate not intervened.

As Richardson’s Wilde said as he left jail when told his sentence had been served  “I fear it is just beginning.”

Cooley may well return before the production ends on 14 May but with a run though with Ros Davies now under their belts, the cast and team have coped well with adversity and Plan B is up and running to give an interesting insight into the many sides of Wilde, a genius with a self-destruct button.

Roger Clarke



Wilde’s story is one of a man destroying his life by recklessly pursuing "the love that dare not speak its name" at a time when homosexuality was both illegal and seen by society as an immoral perversion.  Wilde was infatuated with Lord Alfred Douglas, Bosie, the handsome, spoiled, undergraduate son of the brutish Marquis of Queensbury, he of the boxing rules.

Bosie introduced Wilde to the world of gay prostitutes which were to be his eventual downfall. Queensbury warned Wilde off his son and when the affair continued he left a calling card at Wilde’s club accusing him of being a somdomite – spelling not being one of the Marquis’s strong points. It was four days after the phenomenal success of the opening night of The Importance of being Earnest in February 1895.

Bosie saw a chance to get at a father he disliked and cajoled a reluctant Wilde into suing for libel, a hopeless course which only served to unleash Wilde’s secret life of rent boys. The trial collapsed, the jury finding for Queensbury after male prostitutes admitted sex with Wilde. Worse, their evidence saw Wilde arrested and charged with gross indecency. Fifteen weeks after the premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde was in jail.

He was released on 18 May, 1897 and sailed directly to Paris, living under the name Sebastian Melmoth, never to return to Britain. There he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol and De Profundis, a 50,000-word letter he had written, more a treatise, to Bosie. It was not to be published in full until 1962.

Wilde was to die on 30 November 1900 from cerebral meningitis living in abject poverty in a dingy hotel room in Paris, where he is buried with a later tomb designed by Sir Jacob Epstein. He was 46.


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