Kilkenny Arts Festival: City goes Wilde for Rea’s rendition

Darren Hassett on how Stephen Rea and company brought De Profundis to life at the Watergate

Darren Hassett


Darren Hassett


Review: Kilkenny goes Wilde for Rea’s rendition

Acclaimed actor Stephen Rea

The click of shoes filled The Watergate Theatre in Kilkenny City as members of the Irish Chamber Orchestra took their seats behind a lone table and chair.

Then came a shadowy and infirm looking Oscar Wilde, played by Stephen Rea, who sank into the cell furniture in the middle of the stage.

A brief pause was followed by several exhalations as the shabbily dressed but well-groomed Wilde placed his hands on the square table in front of him.

White sheets of paper filled with Wilde’s words, unintelligible from the balcony; but their muddled forms visible, rested on the table. Another exhalation and the recitation began with an injured, “Dear Bosie...”

It set the tone of the opening half hour of the performance and Wilde’s mindset as he wrote De Profundis to his lover “Bosie”, Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was bitter, wounded and disgraced; as he says himself, but as the words flowed he finds the determination to overcome tribulation and pledges to use the adversity of prison to develop himself as a person.

The 90 minute performance was accompanied with a live score by Neil Martin. His music beautifully reflected the words being spoken.

Martin’s score was like a soundtrack for a prison cell in Reading Jail - where Wilde wrote the love letter and spent two years in solitary confinement for indecency.

The music and Rea’s performance thrived and wilted with each other as Wilde’s words moved from hurt and weakness to finding strength.

The gloom and tension created in the music was also met with moments and sequences where the beauty of life, nature and everything outside the prison was remembered as Wilde went on his journey of self-discovery through infamy.

The headline act of the Kilkenny Arts Festival boasted two sold out shows over the opening weekend with a rousing two minute applause filling the theatre on Sunday evening which led to a warm embrace between Rea and Martin - typifying their close working relationship and their satisfaction with having delivered De Profundis to the stage.

The audience heard the sorrow written into De Profundis and the sorrow in Martin’s music as Wilde juggled with life’s fragility and how to fill the space between its beginning and its end.