Wilde Without the Boy, a tender and heartfelt rendition of Wilde’s ‘De Profundis’, and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, both directed and dramatised by Gareth Armstrong and performed by Gerard Logan, form a double bill at St James Theatre’s intimate studio that makes for a deeply moving experience.
Logan, upholding a poised Wildean air despite the tatty suit that symbolises his prisoner status in Wilde Without the Boy, steps onto the stage under a single spotlight. He opens a manuscript sealed with black ribbon and begins to read ‘De Profundis’, Oscar Wilde’s letter to his lover Bosie Douglas penned during his two year hard labour sentence for “gross indecency with other male persons”.
The reading is laced with bitter recollections of his doomed relationship, Bosie’s father who prosecuted Wilde, and the trial. A booming judge’s voice and witness testimonies play out through speakers as the spotlight turns a cold blue to highlight Wilde’s loneliness. “When you are alone,” he says, referring to Bosie’s apparent indifference towards his incarcerated love, “you must remove the mask” and this is exactly what Logan does. His Wilde is a wounded, mourning soul and he makes the sorrow incredibly tangible. But behind the mask Logan strips off during his sincere performance is another – made up of a brave face and eloquent voice – which cracks only very rarely when he turns away from his rapt audience to face the wall, close to weeping. It’s heartbreaking.
Things appear to take a brighter turn in the second part of this beautiful duet The Ballad of Reading Gaol. The hard chairs of Wilde’s cell in Pentonville are swapped for a cushioned wicker garden chair and a glass of whisky. But this is the poem that charts the last days of a man accused of murder: the summery airiness suggested by Logan’s new linen suit and taller, freer posture quickly darkens to mirror the pain and poignancy of Wilde Without the Boy.
The careful, talented pen and directorial gaze of Gareth Armstrong allow Wilde’s words, by turn witty, lyrical, dark and unbearably sad, to remain the focus and Logan’s performance is the most beautiful and honest tribute to a literary treasure. This night with Wilde stirs the soul and the audience leave feeling that they know the famous man behind the pen, and the scandal, a little better.