BWW Reviews: DE PROFUNDIS, Leicester Square Theatre, May 6 2014
"The Man, The Myth, The Legend" gets bandied about these days if someone gets through to the latter stages of The X Factor, but one who really does warrant the description is Oscar Wilde. However, somewhere in the sprawling Wildean legacy - the photographs with the silly hats, the plays and the epigrams, the Parisian tomb, the inevitable Stephen Fry - The Man can be left behind, drowned by the myth and the legend. De Profundis (continuing at Leicester Square Theatre until 8 June) puts the man back at the heart of Oscar's identity and made me reflect again on his tragedy.
The setup - one man, broken if not quite bowed, in a dimly lit cell thinking back on how he ended up in such misery - sounds less than enticing: but this is where the magic kicks in. Paul Dale Vickers has set extracts from Wilde's De Profundis, a long letter sent to his lover and nemesis Lord Alfred Douglas, to music, a single piano providing the melodies. And what melodies! Reflecting the letter's despair, disdain and disappointment, before its heartrending final commitment to the power of love, Michael Riley's playing soars and dips, plaintively plays along, and angrily leads, as Wilde admits personal foolishness and accuses others of vicious victimisation, the piano giving outward expression to his inner turmoil.
The music and Wilde's beautiful prose need quite a performance to do them justice - fortunately Alastair Brookshaw (whom I last saw in Parade as another tragic hero, Leo Frank) sings with enormous conviction, living the torment as the words tumble forth to bounce off the cell walls. Wisely given nothing in the way of props to work with by director Stuart Saint and with only the most subtle lighting changes to enhance or subdue the mood, all of the letter's intensity crashes over us with Mr Brookshaw often close enough to touch - or, more likely, to hug. The small, below ground venue really does feel like a shared dungeon.
After an hour without an interval, the bright lights of Leicester Square come as a relief. I hastened home to look up Wilde's age when all this horror was visited upon him. He was just 40 - and he was, very much, more a man than he was a myth and a legend, despite the fact that his work will live forever.
Photo - Steve Ullathorne