Review – De Profundis, National Theatre

Friday 26 September 2008

A glimpse behind the scenes of the West End Whingers’ workflow:

In order to save the time and bother involved thinking about things, the Whingers hit on the idea very early on of writing the bulk of the review before actually seeing the play.

So weeks before seeing Corin Redgrave’s reading of Oscar WIlde’s De Profundis at the National Theatre one of the Whingers had already penned a few distinctly sub-Wildean aphorisms:

“Unlike his sister he couldn’t be bothered to learn it. No wonder it’s called Reading Gaol.”

“His sentence is actually much longer than a sentence – it feels like life imprisonment.”

And so forth – all eventually to be worked up into the incisive, original and polished bon mots we like to imagine you to expect from us.

Usually, of course, this practice is neither here nor there because plays rarely surprise, practically never delight and anyway we would never let the facts get in the way of a good gag, or even a lame one.

On those rare occasions when a production fails to deliver a perspective which can be mangled to accommodate Phil’s jokes Andrew at least is compensated by the opportunity to delete entire paragraphs  laboriously typed by Phil’s trembling right index finger over many hours as he watches old episodes of Loose Women on Betamax.

All of which is of course working up to the not-very-surprising news that Corin Redgrave delivers a masterful recounting of the astonishing letter that Oscar Wilde wrote (against extraordinary odds according to Redgrave’s excellent programme notes, free) to his lover “Bosie” (Lord Alfred Douglas) while in Reading Gaol.

For an hour Redgrave – dressed in track suit bottoms, trainers, braces and striped shirt – voices Wilde’s lengthy rebuke to Bosie, all the while maintaining that he blames himself. But it is apparent from beginning to end that his lover was actually a complete and utter shit. The tales of Bosie’s self-centred, greedy, demanding personality pile on each other like so much guano.

But the result – like guano – is surprisingly precious and the Whingers were captivated for the entire duration (less than an hour).

What most surprised the them was that – despite the almost complete absence of descriptive prose – they pictured every scene with utter clarity. Quite how Mr Redgrave got the Whingers’ imaginations working after all these years is a mystery, but we raise our hats to him.

Apparently the letter survived only because the man whom Wilde entrusted to send it to Bosie made two copies. Bosie, of course, tore his up in a fit of pique. According to Bosie’s fan website

Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas, or “Bosie” as he preferred to be called (a nickname gained in childhood), was an accomplished poet, writer, and editor. He is known to many as the intimate friend of Oscar Wilde. However, some of the most well-known people of his day had the highest praise for his poetry and sonnets. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, compiler of The Oxford Book of English Verse, believed that Douglas wrote the finest sonnets of his time, sonnets that few other English poets had ever equaled. Frank Harris also gave him extravagant praise as a sonneteer, comparing him with Shakespeare; and George Bernard Shaw compared him to Shelley.

… yet thanks to Wilde’s letter and now Redgrave’s recitation Bosie will be rightfully remembered as the author of Wilde’s downfall and for being a complete and utter shit.

Catch De Profundis on Mon 29, Tue 30 Sept or Wed 1 Oct. All tickets are £10.


1. De Profundis has inspired the Whingers to devise a new show of their own which is currently in development with a view to offering it to the National. It will involve them reading out other notable man-on-man love letters. Sadly they have so far succeeded in coming up with just one so – by default – the title of their show will have to be Bunnies Can And Will Go To France. On the plus side, it will be mercifully short, lasting only about three seconds.

2. This is more the review we were expecting to write.

One Response to “Review – De Profundis, National Theatre”

  1. TheTTCritic Says:

    I’m astonished you enjoyed this. Did you swot up on the text before you went (as un-whinger like as that would be)? A quadruple espresso perhaps?

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