Simon Callow in De Profundis (3 stars)

Simon Callow in De Profundis

Classic prison text offers a masterclass in acting

Simon Callow's visits to the Fringe are predictably solid: an important text from history, performed with an actorly assurance that is slightly old-fashioned but a pleasure to hear, with little unnecessary scenography and plenty of focus on the star of the vehicle. In De Profundis, Callow acts Oscar Wilde in prison, castigating his former lover without being able to put into words the truth that his own desires compelled him towards disaster.

Clearly a depressing message from a homophobic past, De Profundis has Wilde at his worst – quick to complain, unwilling to accept responsibility for his attachment to his ill-behaved beloved – and at his most reflective and eloquent. There's none of his theatrical wit or camp, but a profundity and awareness of his own worth that allows Callow to range across emotions and grand ideas in his trademark measured delivery. The desperate grasping for hope under intolerable injustice retains a grace, even after more liberal attitudes condemn the system that broke the playwright's genius: his attitude towards others, however, can come across as spiteful.

Callow is masterful, but the event is an exercise in quality performance: there is no dramaturgical urgency and this production speaks little to more contemporary concerns, except to emphasise the history of the struggle for LGBTQI freedoms. The recitation lasts half an hour too long, and shifts between emotional climaxes and repetitious complaints, ultimately leaving the sensation that De Profundis is as much about Callow's charisma as Wilde's sufferings.

Assembly Rooms, until 26 Aug (not 20), 12.30pm, £17–£19 (£16–£17).

Simon Callow in De Profundis

  • 3 stars

Assembly Festival presents the Classic Spring Production Olivier Award-winning Simon Callow performs Oscar Wilde’s searing meditation on his life, in the form of a devastating letter of reproach to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas – ‘Bosie’. Imprisoned in Reading Gaol and forbidden from writing works of fiction, Wilde was…

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