Review: The Trials of Oscar Wilde at Chesterfield Pomegranate Theatre

Oscar Wilde’s plays have retained their popularity for well over a century, and many people are familiar with at least one of them.

Only slightly less well known, though far more notorious, is the tragedy of the famous writer’s private life, which was made painfully public in two high-profile trials.

The Trials of Oscar Wilde, staged at the Pomegranate for just one night this week by the European Arts Company, was a dramatisation of both trials: Wilde’s unsuccessful prosecution of the Marquis of Queensbury for libel, and the criminal trial which followed, resulting in his imprisonment in Reading Gaol.

Three actors played a multitude of parts. John Gorick was Wilde himself, languid, fluent and sardonic in the first trial, equally eloquent but with a hint of desperation in the second as he slowly realised it was not going to end well.

Rupert Mason and William Kempsell had the marginally harder task, and performed it well. Playing assorted lawyers, blackmailers, witnesses (including a hotel chambermaid!), the occasional policeman and a handful of others, they leapt from character to character without missing a beat or a line. Swift costume changes added to the illusion, but skilful acting was the main ingredient.

There were modern resonances in John O’Connor’s and Merlin Holland’s deftly constructed script, not least the difficulty a jury is presented with when trying to detach tabloid coverage from real evidence.

It was altogether a witty, neatly done portrayal of a little-explored piece of history; the pity was it only played for one performance.