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Posts Tagged ‘Rupert Everett’

The original leads of the 1982 West End premiere of Julian Mitchell’s play have done rather well for themselves. Rupert Everett was the first Bennett, followed by Daniel Day-Lewis and Colin Frith, and Kenneth Branagh was the original Judd! The class of 2014, who seem a lot younger, are excellent (and include an Attenborough!) so it will be interesting to see if history repeats itself.

It’s particularly fascinating seeing one’s reaction to the play in three productions over 32 years. In 1982, Thatcher was challenging the old boy network in her own party and this grammar school / polytechnic / manufacturing industry boy felt like he was peering into some mysterious other world. In 2000, New Labour had caught our imagination and this seemed like distant history. Today, it’s like seeing the formative years of our current rulers, helping you understand where all the hypocrisy and duplicitousness comes from and realising that nothing has actually changed. I found that annoying and profoundly irritating.

It’s a 30’s British public school, breeding ground for leaders and spies. Bennett is openly gay, behaving like a child in a toyshop. Judd is a Marxist revolutionary, all idealism and rebellion. Their bond is that they won’t play the conservative game and conform with the absurd traditions. The rest are chips off the old blocks, clones of their dads, being brainwashed into following in their footsteps. The suicide of a boy caught inflagrante delicto with another and the visit of an old boy, uncle of a present one, are used to stimulate the debate about what these places actually breed.

It is an extremely well written play, superbly staged by Jeremy Herrin within Peter McKintosh’s simple wood-panelled world, and it’s beautifully performed by nine young actors and Julian Wadham as the old boy, who appeared as one of the boys in the original production. Somehow, though, it made me frustrated, hopeless and angry and I couldn’t shake that off.

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I think I might be turning into someone who only likes the second half of plays. Perhaps I’m slowing down, taking longer to get into them.  Maybe I should give up on first halves and turn up at the interval (where there is one); it would be a spin on the strategy of a man I met in Edinburgh once who only went to the first half of everything – though that was so that he could fit more in.

Anyway, the second half of Judas Kiss is a lot better than the first. It’s set in Italy after Oscar Wilde’s release from prison. Wilde at last realises that Bosie’s a complete shit, albeit a bit late. The first half in the Cadogan Hotel takes place on the eve of Wilde’s arrest and it all seemed a bit of a muddle to me, trying to say and do too much at the expense of depth and characterisation.

Rupert Everett hasn’t exactly been prolific on stage since his West End debut in Another Country 30 years ago; I think I’ve only seen him twice since. Anyway, he plays Wilde brilliantly and a whole lot better than Liam Neeson in the first outing of this play in 1998. Every other role, including Freddie Fox’s Bosie, is mere support (or decoration) though they are all acted well. The design was disappointing and somehow looked low-budget and tacky on the Hampstead Theatre stage.

The play came at the end of an extraordinary 10 years for playwright David Hare in which he produced six classic ‘state of the nation’ plays – The Secret Rapture, Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges, The Absence of War, Skylight and Amy’s View – and it wasn’t a patch on any of them – and it still isn’t.

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