When most people think of Oscar Wilde, the first thought that comes to mind is one of comedy and laughs, most notably due to his plays An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest. However, in 1895, while incarcerated and forced into hard prison labour for gross indecency, Wilde spent two years virtually deprived of any comfort and affection, and perhaps most importantly for him, books and writing. It was during this time that he penned a love letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, who was his lover at the time of his conviction, and also his betrayer. Presented as part of Midsumma Festival, De Profundis (From the Depths) is a darker, more distressing side to Wilde that is rarely heard of, and is a poignant look at forgiveness and acceptance.
The weight of the production falls on Brian Lucas, who as Wilde, is required to not only express the turmoil he is feeling but to also show the beauty in the pain and suffering that he is experiencing. Despite a few moments when Lucas' speech feels stilted, he retains a great control of the poetic language, and his jittery body language and facial expressions are a constant reminder that this is a persecuted man on the edge of despair.
David Fenton's assured direction builds on Wilde's isolation and claustrophobia. Taking place entirely in his prison cell, the intimacy of the performance space, roughly 5x2 metres, allows for Wilde's words to really affect the audience and to comprehend the enormity of his circumstances. Ray Pittman's video and set design further support this tone, with three dirty white sheets hanging along the back and the top of the performing space, virtually boxing Lucas in.
Throughout the performance, selected sentences and words from the script are projected on to the sheets, which allow the audience to dwell on Wilde's words and let their meaning find their way deep into our minds. At times, visual projections of flowers or a man's face appear, further highlighting Wilde's inner thoughts, however this isn't always successfully accomplished, such as when his book covers are displayed which feels out of place with the beauty or escapism that the other images conjure.
De Profundis is a compelling story on the innermost thoughts of a man who has been cast aside by society for daring to live his truth. This theatrical adaptation of Wilde's love letter shows Wilde in a light we've never seen before, and plays as a potent reminder of how far we've come - and in some cases how little we've come - in the acceptance and equality of all LGBTQIA+ people.
Venue: Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham St, Albert Park, 3206
Season: until 27 January | 7:30pm
Tickets: $35 Full | $30 Conc
Bookings: Midsumma Festival