Review: A Wilde Night

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Durham’s first fully immersive play, A Wilde Night, depicts a blend of scenes from Oscar Wilde’s life and imagination. Transitioning seamlessly between reenactments of the most humorous or poignant scenes from Wilde’s work to his ruminations imprisoned in a cell, this tribute to Wilde’s life and art is brilliantly crafted by co-writers and Max Shanagher. Dressed formally, the audience members are invited along to join in on a sophisticated evening, enjoying cucumber sandwiches (no wonder there were none left for Lady Bracknell!) and prosecco as they watch the drama unfold like a nosy guest at Lady Windermere’s party. 

Performed across two locations, beginning in Hatfield Chapel and filing along into an elegant drawing room in Lady Windemere’s house, the jaunty ushers (Lily Knowles, Monty Heseltine, Izzy Rodger, and Patrick O’Connell) managed to make what could have been an awkward transition, amusing and engaging. Providing quips and witticisms, often improvised, the ushers transform set changes and movement between locations into a natural and comedic part of the performance. Playing to the strengths of actors with a variety of skill sets, from improvisation to classical drama, meant each different element of the play benefited. 

Providing quips and witticisms, often improvised, the ushers transform set changes and movement between locations into a natural and comedic part of the performance

The play alternates between renditions of Wilde’s comedies, into tragic and artistic soliloquies performed by as Oscar Wilde, the bleakness of his prison cell highlighted by gloomy sound and lighting. By the time the audience is guided back into the chapel, the mood is darker and more serious, as Wilde’s trial looms. Here, the different locations reflect the tone, without making the overall play feel discordant or disjointed, as each combines elements of both humour and pathos. As a spectator of Wilde’s trial, the dramatisation of a scene from The Picture of Dorian Gray beautifully encapsulates the tragedy of Wilde’s fate. 

A heady blend of locations; reality and fiction, comedy and tragedy, the cast did a great job of keeping characters and scenes distinct from one another. The distinct characterisations embodied by the actors playing multiple roles throughout, with the help of varied costumes, mean none of the characters are ever confused. Alannah O’Hare as Lady Windermere was a highlight. I particularly enjoyed ’s depiction of The Marquess of Queensbury, as the combination of striking costume and acting creates an impactful antagonist in Wilde’s biographical story. Thomas as Wilde manages to combine his wry sense of ironic humour with his beautiful hold of the English language. ’s humorous depiction of a nervous and boyish “Bosie” slowly matures as the play develops. 

The distinct characterisations embodied by the actors playing multiple roles throughout, with the help of varied costumes, mean none of the characters are ever confused

As guests at Lady Windermere’s party, audience interaction is handled well, though during a romantic speech by Wilde (George Thomas) with an audience member as the imagined subject felt somewhat awkward. The costume and makeup are expertly done, creating a convincing illusion of Victorian aristocrats. To somebody unfamiliar with the variety of Wilde’s work this could have been confusing, but the scenes were clearly carefully chosen by the writers to great effect; even my friend who had no prior knowledge of Oscar Wilde or his works enjoyed and understood the performance. 

The extensive knowledge Hyams and Shanagher have of Oscar Wilde’s life and art shines through the writing, brought to life by a talented cast and crew.

Image credit: Walkabout Productions

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