Oscar Wilde was wild. He was a ballsy dude. No question. We know what he said; we know what he wrote; we know what he did. What we don’t know is how he felt. Even in the most abject circumstances: jailed, bankrupt, disgraced, Wilde hid himself inside the carapace of Art.
Gerard Logan’s one-man-show is a masterful interpretation of De Profundis, Wilde’s letter to ‘Bosie’, Lord Alfred Douglas, written from a cell in Reading Gaol. It evokes sympathy, not for the artist, but for the man. Wilde kept that part in shadow.
Receiving not a single line from Bosie - the lover for whom Wilde had risked, and lost, everything the British Establishment could take from him - during his imprisonment, Wilde maintains an ironic distance from disaster. Wilde suggested that the prime reason he was serving two years hard labour for gross indecency was not his homosexuality, but his daring to take Bosie’s father, a Peer of the Realm, to Court. Talking in rational, reasonable terms, Logan persuades us much for Wilde’s case.
Yet there is more - so much more. Logan’s dramatic skill is to seek the emotion behind the barrier: to make feelings real, before they’ve transmuted into the impersonality of art. When Byron lost his half-sister Augusta, he wrote that the news had broken his heart. ‘I feel like an elephant has trod on it’, Byron recorded in a letter. Byron’s is a powerful image for a vivid feeling. It hurt.
When Wilde writes of putting on a ‘brazen face’, taking the mask off ‘for breathing purposes alone’, we have no idea of the emotion behind it; only the wit. Logan’s performance was both prodigious in terms of memory – an hour of Wilde’s bon mots is one of the richest feasts imaginable, but also in his interpretation.
His eyes fixed on a far off spot: at one time conversational, another his voice shaking with anger, Logan inhabited the small, cramped space of his barely furnished cell with a Titanic presence. One moment he seethed with rage, another whispered in self pity.
Yet when Wilde wept, Logan turned his back. There are some things which even a RADA trained, RSC and National Theatre actor cannot bring himself to expose. In that, he was truest to Wilde. An enigma blazing all over the stage.