To Dad With Love

A Tribute to a Beloved Father

Tag: Zak Zavod

Theatre review: The Judas Kiss

Dear Dad

The Judas Kiss

Towards the end of the play, Oscar Wilde says John, not Judas, should’ve been the one to betray Jesus since John was the apostle Jesus most loved while he hardly knew Judas. And watching how Oscar has been forsaken by the love of his life, we understand why.

Jason Cavanagh’s elegant revival of David Hare’s 1998 play is a rich portrait of unequal love, and a moving portrayal of what it means to live under the conviction that “Only when we love do we see the true person. Love is not the illusion. Life is.”

It is 1895. Oscar has lost a libel suit against the Marquess of Queensberry who has accused him of sodomy. The Marquess is the father of his paramour, Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), and the writer himself now faces arrest.

Meanwhile, Robert Ross, his former flame who still harbours a passion for Oscar has organised for the embattled prosecutor-turned-defendent to leave whilst at the same time nursing the heartache of having the man he loves loving somebody else.

Under Chris Baldock’s thespian brilliance, Oscar who died more than 100 years ago wits his way back to life before our eyes. But rather than the flamboyant spirit with a piercing intellect you’d imagine, Baldock presents a more sombre figure that the Irish poet became.

Allowing himself to see only the best in his object of desire, Baldock’s Oscar is vehement in his delusion, in denial of being used by Bosie as a tool to rebel against his father.

Refusing to give in to the oppression of aristocracy, blindly believing that Bosie will work on acquiring his bail, that flight would represent a betrayal of their love, Oscar rebuffs Robert’s well-meaning gestures, and stays to be apprehended.

Hare’s exquisite writing finds character distinctions between Oscar and Bosie; it contrasts the devotion Robert has for Oscar with the selfish callousness of Oscar’s new beau, and compares Oscar’s unreturned love for Bosie with Robert’s for Oscar.

After the interval, in Naples, following two years of hard-labour incarceration, a perceptibly-diminished Oscar is reunited with Bosie who carries on with his promiscuous ways despite their destitution.

But Oscar, even when facing demands to leave Bosie or have the allowance from his wife cut off, will not abandon his lover — only to find himself soon enough dumped.

Through Baldock, we see the despair of a fervent romantic who, wrapped up in extravagant quixotism, had clung on to the hope that the world (including his wife and children) would understand if Bosie and he could prove their inextinguishable love.

“The governing principle of my life has been love,” Oscar says to the departing Bosie. “But of yours, it has been power.”

And the script is woven with a language that is as lush as it is lustrous.

Other performances, too, have been tremendous. Nigel Langley’s Bosie is positively unlikable (as he should be), callow and curiously self-righteous; hotel servants by Soren Jensen and Lauren Murtagh and Zak Zavod are appropriately human beneath uniforms of subservience. Oliver Coleman, though, is worthy of special mention: remarkably poised, he combines in Robert a quiet dignity and an emotional anguish when told that what he had with Oscar is “not the same” as what Oscar now has with Bosie.

Besides drawing out the psychological truths of the drama, Cavanagh also gives the simulated-sex and nude scenes an artful quality. And the lighting design by Rob Sowinski is excellent as well in conveying the dusk of a dying love, and the darkest moments of the final goodbye before dawn.

Having everything taken from him, not least his ability to write, Oscar would have seen why it was Judas who gave Jesus away — he hardly knew Bosie afterall — if he had realised that perhaps life is not the illusion; but love is.

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Theatre review: The Blue Room

Dear Dad

Sex (still) sells, despite what some might say. Just head down to The Owl and the Pussycat now, if you need any convincing.

On attendance night, the theatre was nearly full, packed with people from the young (no, not kids, of course) to the doddery old. There were homosexuals, heterosexuals; there were talkers, and watchers, the chic, and the scruffy.

And what about theatre reviews? Barely one week since the opening show, and the web is already buzzing with a flurry of enthusiastic write-ups, that mostly only high-budget, high-profile productions seem able to enjoy.

When David Hare’s play, The Blue Room, opened in London in 1998, featuring Nicole Kidman and Iain Glen, people thronged their way to glimpse at Kidman’s bare buttocks. And when Simon Phillips staged a production at the Melbourne Theatre Company in 2002, ticket sales were phenomenal. So, things have hardly changed.

Adapted from Arthur Schnitzler’s 1921 Reigen, this play is an interlocking lace of sexual rendezvous: a prostitute latches on to a taxi-driver, who coaxes his way into an au pair’s knickers, that gives exploitative pleasure to her employer’s son, who matures under the hands of a politician’s wife, her husband meanwhile wheedling a 17-year-old model, who is entranced by a playwright seeking inspiration from her and an actress, who tempts into her bosom an aristocrat, who turns out to be the first prostitute’s soul-searching client.

Yes, that was enervating to write, enervating too to watch. But that is perhaps the whole idea: through his wry social portrait, Schnitzler (a doctor) wants us to follow debauchery as it (and the diseases it carries) traverses its way through different classes of society. If the subterranean agenda is too subtle to deter, the sheer iteration of the theme itself becomes too tedious after a while.

Fortunately, director Jason Cavanagh has given his revival a decidedly light and engaging flourish, making the 120-minute production enjoyable to sit through, without compromising on the hollowness of those lives it conveys.

As with most of Hare’s writings, the script is woven with probing political questions: has the liberty our society craves for become too libertine for our own good, for example. And do the wealthy have more entitlement to freedom than the poor?

We do not get answers, as you’d expect, but what we get is an insight into how carnal desires have no respect for class, or any other boundary. It drives us, (often) defines us, and contrary to received wisdom, offers as much sensory gratification no matter who the co-participant, what the reasons for participation, or where.

Kaitlyn Clare and Zak Zavod play the woman and the man, each one taking on five roles, over 10 separate scenes.

Clare is a consummate performer who segues between characters, accents, and personas with flawless ease. She is scorching as the raunchy hooker, demure as the au pair, manipulative as the actress. Her angelic innocence as the young model enraptured by the playwright’s musical rendition is especially memorable. And her crisp English inflection, delicious French intonation are altogether pretty impressive. Most will agree she is one of the most talented, most exciting actresses to watch today.

While Zavod may not display as much versatility and flair as Clare, consistently pushy or aggressive in most of his personalities, he gives his final character a moving introspective journey. And, as his piano sequence demonstrates, his talent is nothing less than multi-faceted.

The shopfront venue in darkly trendy Richmond is ideal for The Blue Room, and the set is something of a portmanteau affair, with all the scenes folded more or less into the same intimate space. The grand finale, however, must count as the most unexpected, the lights, the street, the motion all conspiring to jolt us firmly back into reality.

There is more nudity here than in other productions, but far from hastening the activity of complex proteins, it seems to have the opposite effect. Although Clare’s body is as beautiful as a white marble sculpture, and Zavod’s trim physique just as enviable, I cannot help but feel how the first glance at the prostitute’s covered crotch was more prurient.

And is that not Schnitzler’s point: sex still sells, but sexual excesses are as counterproductive as always.

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