“It is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?”

Don’t miss the European Arts Company touring play, “The Trials of Oscar Wilde”. With consummate skill, the four actors along with judicious use of lighting and sound bring this tragic true story to life. We follow the fabulously witty Wilde from the height of his popularity and success to the depths of regret and despair.
Oscar Wilde is confident and suave at the start of the play. He is in court, prosecuting the Marquess of Queensberry for libel after the latter left a card at Oscar Wilde’s club accusing him of ‘posing as a sodomite’.

In defending intimations of homosexuality in his novel 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', Wilde claims beauty and art stand outside the definition of what is moral or immoral. While he ducks and feints away from criticism, he alienates the jury. He is condescending and disdainful, “Art is rarely intelligible to the criminal classes”. Wilde plays with words and lightly rebuffs the defence lawyer but he is increasingly baited and drawn into admitting that he is a homosexual.

At the end of the first act, the Marquess is acquitted and we have seen the pendulum of popularity already swinging away from Wilde. Although this was the end of the nineteenth century, when the bohemian art nouveau epoch was in full bloom, mainstream society was still very conservative. Homosexual acts were not only a crime but we’re left in no doubt of the revulsion and anger they induced. After the trial, we hear one commentator call to “kill the bugger.”

The second act moves on to the next trial as we see Wilde being prosecuted for acts of “Gross Indecency”. A sad stream of characters appear before us, testifying against Oscar. Gone are the urbane, intelligent sallies of the first trial. We meet the down-at-heel young men with whom Oscar Wilde indulged his pleasures and he is damned by their words. We hear dark details of prostitution and bribery. As it was illegal, homosexuality made uneasy bedfellows with other crimes.

I felt pity for these men. Even though they were greedy and dishonest, their poverty was a strong motivating force. I felt even greater pity for the stellar genius who ends the play sentenced to prison with his reputation tattered.

“We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars”