The Trials of Oscar Wilde returns for an exciting UK tour – this fascinating production, co-written by Merlin Holland, Oscar Wilde’s own grandson, and John O’Connor tells of what actually happened during Wilde’s trials, drawing on the original transcripts.
Only days after the celebrated opening of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, he started legal proceedings against The Marquess of Queensberry for criminal libel – an action which led to three scandalous trials that destroyed his career, wrecked his family and saw him sentenced to two years hard labour.
The play is adapted from the full transcript of the libel trial in April 1895 (recently discovered by Merlin Holland after 100 years), contemporary newspaper reports and eyewitness accounts. The Trials of Oscar Wilde enables us to see a full picture of the trials and their shocking aftermath. What happened at the Old Bailey and what did Wilde say? Was he harshly treated or the author of his own downfall? Using the actual words spoken in court, we can feel what it was like to be in the company of a flawed genius – as this less than ideal husband was tragically reduced to a man of no importance.
Co-writer O’Connor comments, Oscar Wilde is many people’s ideal dinner guest but it’s difficult to imagine how he actually spoke. However, thanks to the transcripts of the trials, we can hear Wilde’s true voice in all its exasperating brilliance. It’s exciting to discover that he did talk in perfectly formed epigrams and paradoxes but the Old Bailey was far too dangerous a place to do that. The stakes couldn’t have been higher. Wilde deflects, stumbles and feints like a boxer up against the ropes but he meets his match in the British Establishment. His wit is incomparable, his humanity a triumph but his tragedy makes him immortal.
This production shows Oscar Wilde fighting for his art as well as his life; we see his complexity, wit and deep humanity using the real facts and transcripts. Wilde’s grandson comments, Over the years, there have been a number of attempts to tell the story of my grandfather on stage but none of them has really managed to bring alive the drama of Oscar’s courtroom appearances.
Using the actual words from the libel trial, and with a careful reconstruction of Wilde’s prosecution by the Crown for homosexuality, it’s a chance for audiences to see the real Oscar for the first time. The Trials of Oscar Wilde should be an obligatory part of every young person’s education to teach them the meaning of tolerance and, more than ever in today’s world, about the appalling consequences of blinkered homophobia.