A huge fan of the works of Oscar Wilde, I am more au fait with the society comedies such as The Importance of Being Earnest and the dark works such as A Picture of Dorian Gray and Salome. In fact, to be honest, I have never read any of Wilde’s fairytales first published in 1888.
The opportunity to watch “an adapted fantasia of two of Oscar Wilde’s most beloved short stories, The Nightingale and The Rose and The Happy Prince” set in pre-war Germany, at the Nazi uprising, especially in days following remembrance Sunday, was not to be missed.
What appears at first glance to be a stark contrast to his usual writings, the “fairytales” still hold true to many of Wilde’s themes: art mimicking life, class divide, morality, innocence, persecution, love, youth, experience, fear and regret. I should also note that Sarah E. Pitard, the Playwright and Paradigm’s Artistic Director, peppers her adaptations with symbols and mentions of flowers, as does Wilde.
I am greeted with a warm reception, as always, from Waterloo East Theatre, the intimate off-West End space that champions new writing and take my seat within the auditorium.
A dark stage, minimalist set with a poignant basket of ruby red roses, hangs from the ceiling; instrumental classical music plays and we are transported to pre-war Germany where we meet a cast of characters each exploring love in different ways. We witness a glorious performance by Tamar Karabetyan and experience every word and gesture she feels as she experiences why “love is better than life, and what is [her] heart compared to the heart [of Besnik] …. love that is wiser than philosophy and mightier than power”. This is beautifully juxtaposed with her suitors cries “what a silly thing love is, it doesn’t prove anything…half as useful as logic… unpractical”.
We are faced with the awful and disturbing question – how does one measure love – and are forced to question ourselves and our selfless gestures in this world as the piece ends with disturbing images showing us what love did to many in Nazi-Germany.
A short interval follows and we return to watch another beautifully crafted piece.
In The Happy Prince we follow the final days of both Isabella, innocent and thoughtful orphan gypsy youth beautifully played by Bethan Hanks, and Mr Prin, the experienced and persecuted “mizer”; a perfect casting for Jeremy Gagan. We watch their relationship unfold as they both experience what it is to love and to be loved, to experience and to give experience. There is also a beautiful moment where upper-class German Baker’s son Kurt (Theo Ancient) and Isabella (Hanks) face the fact that they will not be able to be lovers due to class, health and anti-semeticism.
Both short stories were skilfully staged by Cat Robey and costumed by Hollie Perniskie, honouring both the original work of Wilde, and incorporating the talented cast of the Paradigm Theatre Company.
This is a writer I will be watching out for, and a cast I will want to see again.
Tonight I left the theatre wanting to read the original texts and urge you to see the plays.
Bravo Bravo – 5*s
Review by Faye Stockley
Wednesday 14th November 2012