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West End transfer does no harm to triumphant revival of David Hare’s play about Oscar Wilde’s downfall

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This revival of David Hare’s drama about Oscar Wilde and his notorious relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas has transferred to the West End after a triumphant run at the Hampstead Theatre.

The play failed to fully ignite when first staged in 1998, which Hare has blamed on the miscasting of principal roles including Liam Neeson as Wilde.

There are no such problems with director Neil Armfield’s production, primarily because of Rupert Everett’s riveting take on the great man.

He looks every inch the part with his dandy dress, bloated body and parted hair, and exudes the considerable charisma attributed to the Irish wordsmith, but with a very human weariness and without caricature.

The play is split into two acts set either side of the two years imprisonment he served after being convicted of gross indecency in 1895, a fate precipitated by his affair with the lord, who was known as Bosie.

Freddie Fox puts in a strong performance as the younger man, an arrogant and self-centred foil to Everett’s show-stealing Wilde.

The first half sees Wilde considering whether to flee the country as he awaits arrest, after the collapse of his libel case against Bosie’s father.

We find him holed up in a hotel room with Bosie and loyal friend Robert Ross (Cal MacAninch), in defiant mood and seemingly driven towards self-destruction because of his attachment to Bosie. The second half sees Wilde and Bosie staying in Naples having rekindled their relationship.

The sets are simple enough, but Everett’s Wilde is a complex character. He is transformed after the interval, becoming a frail and haunted man, yet still completely engaging and continuing to talk with such flair.

The play enthrals while offering plenty of insight into the writer’s contradictions and his tragic downfall.

It was well suited to the intimate Hampstead stage, but the transfer hasn’t done a jot of harm.

* The Judas Kiss is at the Duke of York’s Theatre in St Martin’s Lane, WC2, until Saturday April 6. Tickets from www.atgtickets.com or 0844 871 7627.

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