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Sydney’s Old Fitzroy and its theatre operation is a cultural touchstone that uniquely links generations in a town slavishly fixated to the latest fad. A bar without posturing that holds its history and popularity. Nightlife without the Old Fitzroy’s could not be a blander proposition. With over 100 years of history, this family-owned gem is hidden in the back streets of Woolloomooloo, not far from Sydney’s once seedy alleys of Kings Cross.
Boasting Australia’s only pub theatre, the Old Fitz Theatre seats 60 showing quality performances of classics and contemporary independent theatre. With no contracts to big breweries the sixteen taps of the bar are full of an excellent range of craft beers, which continually rotate and follow the season. What’s not to love?
In 2015, Red Line Productions re-opened the doors of the legendary Old Fitz Theatre – a venue that was built in 1997 by a group of passionate theatre makers. Alumni from the tiny Old Fitz stage include Tim Minchin, Kate Mulvany, Mark Priestley, Toby Schmitz, Ewen Leslie, Brendan Cowell, Blazey Best, Christopher Stollery, Travis Cotton, Ella Scott Lynch, Patrick Brammell and Leon Ford.The intensely intimate nature of the venue allows for fearless programming and production, which led to The Old Fitz establishing itself as a quality ensemble theatre.
Enter David Hare’s Judas Kiss: In the spring of 1895, the dauntlessly, impeccably stylish poet, playwright and bon vivant Oscar Wilde was at the peak of his witty existence. One of his Masterpieces The Importance of Being Ernest had become a hit in the West End, making him the toast of London. Yet by summer he was serving two years in prison for gross indecency. The beginning scene of David Hare’s 1998 drama Judas Kiss is the Cadogan Hotel in 1895, where Wilde gathers his thoughts after losing a libel suit against the Marquess of Queensbury, the father of his lover Alfred Douglas, also known as “Boisie”. The Marquess, enraged by the couple’s recklessly public and, in Victorian society’s view, amoral affair, openly insulted the writer and thus a lawsuit ensued. Now the defeated writer struggles with a burden of conscience — flee to France to escape persecution or stay and stand his ground, even when Boisie’s love is fickle and inconstant.
The Redline incarnation of the production starts out with a bang with a young, naked couple enthusiastically getting it on. After an unplanned coitus interuptus, we find out they’re a serving boy and a maid taking advantage of the bed in a hotel room they’re supposed to be readying for Mr. Wilde. The author is in the midst of the public disgrace that ruined his life and career, facing a trial for indecency (id est homosexuality) and the prospect of immediate imprisonment.
Ever devoted to decadence, Wilde resigns to relishing the present moment — chugging wine, sitting down to lunch, quarreling and canoodling with his young lover, Bosie— all while a mob gathers outside and his arrest seems imminent. His supporters take different sides in Oscar’s fight-or-flight decision, with Bosie insisting he may be able to help if Wilde stays, as his father is the writer’s adversary in court, while Wilde’s former lover and trusted friend Robert Ross pleads that he escape to France on the next train. He misses his chance, and the second act finds Wilde in exile following two years of imprisonment. He and Bosie are down and out in Naples, where they’re low on money but rich in the currency of decadence and bodily pleasures. Oscar is in rigor mortis, passive, not writing and can hardly get up from his chair as he faces betrayal. Bosie is as selfish as ever; Ross shows up to tell Wilde his family is done waiting for him.
The both romantic individualist, master of paradox and victim Wilde that emerges from Iain Sinclair’s melancholic and at times somber incarnation of Judas Kiss, is a multifaceted character: One who can either be admired for his uncompromising moral integrity and enduring intelligence, or pitied for his willful capacity for self-destruction. Josh Quong Tart manages to portray Wilde’s inner upheavals and giving depth to great emotions that could easily run danger of border lining worn out clichés. Quong Tart masters the technically difficult task of playing Wilde, a character where the slightest slip would result in breaking character. It comes with the territory and lies in the childish hysteric character of his counterpart, Bosie, performed by Hayden Maher, that its portrayal is painted with a broader brush with at times simplistic strokes. Strokes that make it difficult to decipher what the attraction was for Wilde in the first place.
Enormously present and anchoring the play is Simon London in his intentionally understated yet nuanced role of Wilde’s confidante Robbie. The main protagonists are flanked by Robert Alexander, Luke Fewster, Hannah Raven and David Soncin. Time has been kind to Judas Kiss and Redline Production’s take on it only amplifies the rich, relevant and resonant piece it is.
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