De Profundis (Brisbane Powerhouse and Metro Arts)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre
April 22 – May 2
“De Profundis” has a complete lockout. No latecomers will be admitted at any point. This is to respect the artistic integrity of the work. We thank you for your understanding.” What may at first seem like artistic pretension, is upon experience absolutely understandable for this is an engrossing show of the type that has absorbed audience members leaning forward in their seats, entranced by its words, imagery and an excellent performance by Brian Lucas.
Brainchild of David Fenton, “De Profundis” explores Oscar Wilde’s persecution for being gay and suffering in prison for ‘gross indecency’, through presentation of work that is wound around his infamous 1897, 50,000-word letter, written from Reading Goal in the literary form of an epistle to his lover and betrayer, Lord Alfred Douglas. It is a show sure to split audience opinion, as Wilde’s 1895 trial-by-media no doubt did (there was one walk-out of the Visy Theatre the night I was there). It is hard work to digest, dense as it is with dialogue. The language is laborious, but it is lusciously so, filled both with Wide’s wonderful wit and sorrowful observations. Clearly, this is not a delightful social satire of the “The Importance of Being Ernest” sort.
Sorrow may, as it is noted, have no season, but behind it lies a soul. The show is quite graphic and not just due to its nudity. The nudity is almost a necessity in conveying Wilde’s vulnerabity in being stripped back to his emotional and spiritual soul. And Lucas gives an excellent solo performance of impressive stamina, physically, vocally and emotionally, as he takes audiences from reflection to rebellion and back again, presenting Wilde as a man suffering for physical labour and emotional isolation, more than as a martyr.
The setting is simple: a bleak cell in which Wilde is imprisoned in his suffering. It is intimate but versatile in its facilitation of the superb visual feast of av work folding in thoughts and images arising from the letter, deliciously bringing the writing to life. Lighting too perfectly captures mood variations and changes in pace. However, running past its promoted 70 mins, it could have ended triumphantly a number of times over.
The nudity and graphic sexually explicit material of “De Profundis” will be a stumbling block for some but it is still worth seeing as a powerful, confronting contemporary theatre adaption of a classic literary work and an important comment on human rights and the nature of art. As Wilde himself claimed during his private prosecution against Queensberry for libel, ‘works of art are not capable of being moral or immoral but only well or poorly made’ and in this instance, “De Profundis” is very well-made.