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De Profundis

by on 1 July 2020

Arrested Development

De Profundis

 by Oscar Wilde

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 28th June, then on-line on YouTube.

Reviewed by Eleanor Lewis

De Profundis conjures up laundry for me.  When I lived in Paris in the ‘80s I rented a avenue_rapp-1-819x1024 Sophieroom in an apartment close to the Eiffel Tower and on Thursdays while I did my laundry in the laundrette down one of the little streets off the main drag, I read Oscar Wilde.  This was not really OK, I should obviously have been reading Baudelaire, but who’s perfect?

De Profundis is quite a read, particularly when you’re starting at 11:15 on Saturday night as part of TTC’s 25 hour Wilde Weekend and have only a five minute break to look forward to.  Steve Taylor rose to the occasion though, performing acres of text straight to camera and channelling Wilde in way that managed to be both philosophical and quite bouncy.

One of the engaging elements of De Profundis is the beginning section which in parts reads almost like the end of any bad relationship: it is Wilde’s ‘look what you’ve brought me to’ letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie, as he was known).  It was an accusation of sodomy from Bosie’s father, the Marquis of Queensberry, that caused Wilde to begin the doomed court proceedings which sent him famously to Reading Gaol.  Homosexuality was illegal at the time.  Queensberry was horrified by his son’s relationship with Wilde and Douglas cared for little, if anything, beyond himself.  At one point Wilde rebukes Bosie for the sheer profligacy of their time together.

reading_gaol_19thc

“(With you) The week’s expenses … ranged from £80 to £130”, which is not to be sniffed at in 2020, but this is 1892.

Whereas: “One of the most delightful dinners I remember ever having had is one Robert (Ross) and I had together in a little Soho café, which cost about as many shillings as my dinners with you used to cost in pounds.”

Readin Gaol

Wilde wrote De Profundis when he was allowed gentler duties having been physically crushed by the hard labour he was initially sentenced to.  Having dealt as much as possible with his trauma over Bosie, Wilde moved on to a deeper examination of his past, of the life philosophical and artistic and how he would survive and move on: “To regret one’s own experience is to arrest one’s own development”.  He was right, for it’s he who is remembered, revered and his work still read and performed while Lord Alfred has a footnote in history as a minor poet, his major claim to fame being his relationship with Wilde.

DeProfundis Taylor

De Profundis is meant to be read, rather than performed and as such it’s a challenge to perform, particularly with just one camera and a picture of a Victorian gaol cell as a static backdrop.  There was a five minute break in proceedings, during which Daniel Wain kept viewers occupied with various Wilde-related musings and bits of information.  Steve Taylor flagged a little after the tiny interval, (it was heading for 01:00 in the morning) and a little rehearsal of the occasional bits of Greek, French and Italian scattered throughout the text would’ve been good, but this is a free, live 25 hour stream in the midst of a global pandemic for the sake of the Arts and in tribute to a great man, so he’s allowed to flag.  Additionally, Steve Taylor has both the expressive voice and the demeanour of a natural actor.  He was a wise choice for this piece, he has stage presence and if anyone can hold an audience’s attention with a monologue for the best part of two hours, he can.

Eleanor Lewis, June2020

Photography by Charlotte Nadeau, Berkshire Live and Teddington Theatre Club

De Profundis may be seen on YouTube as part of  Wild Weekend (at 8hrs 13mins)

 

 

 

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