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  • Miles Hedley

THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE at Greenwich Theatre

Britain today finds itself horribly divided over Brexit. A century ago the country was also horribly divided - but the reason then was class.

The yawning gulf that segregated society played a key role in destroying one of the 19th century’s most celebrated artists, Oscar Wilde, who was pilloried in part for his homosexuality but mostly because he had a taste for young men outside his own class.

His passion for a peer’s son made an implacable enemy of the young man’s father, the Marquess of Queensbury, while his liaisons with lower-class boys disgusted the hypocritical hierarchy of high Victorian Britain.

The writer’s precipitous fall from grace is expertly charted in The Trials Of Oscar Wilde, a play by his grandson Merlin Holland and John Connor which is based on transcripts of the three ruinous court battles he faced at the height of his fame.

A new production at Greenwich Theatre by the consistently excellent European Arts Company features a brilliant star turn by John Gorick, whose sheer presence and command of the stage made us feel the great man was actually in the auditorium.

Gorick is ably supported by Rupert Mason in the dual roles of Queensbury and the prosecuting counsel, Patrick Knox as Wilde’s QC and Benjamin Darlington as, among other things, a selection of rentboys.

But it’s the timeliness of the taut production, co-directed by Connor and Eve Savage, that most strikes a chord and makes the events of 100-odd years ago feel profoundly relevant today. The causes might have changed but the rifts dividing our nation seem to be as deep, hate-fuelled and insoluble as ever.

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