I enter the Visy Theatre and am confronted with a scene from a mid-20th century German expressionist film. A decaying jail cell with a bench, some books and a naked man in the corner. The walls of the cell are closing in on him. The lights go down, and I am greeted by a visually incredible show telling the stories of Oscar Wilde that are not told to us in our youth. An artist falling apart. A man falling apart. An exposition of a revolutionary, far before his time.
Using Wilde's 1897 De Profundis (a prayer from the depths), written from Reading Gaol as a pretext, Director David Fenton and performer Brian Lucas reflect on the life and struggles of the British poet and novelist. They examine the concept of sexual liberation, the decline of man and the curse of celebrity with a mastery of the craft of theatrical storytelling. Fenton talked of this in his directors note, however the ideas presented were not communicated as effectively as they could have been.
The show was visually incredible. The walls of Wilde's cell were home to marvelous projected animations and told a story in itself. The show was innovative in it's use of tech, however such a tech intensive show is an “all hands on deck” venture. The stage manager, who also operated all technical aspects of the show, also played a number of roles on stage to augment Lucas' performance. This was incredibly effective, however the technical aspects (especially the screen projection) fell out of time when the stage manager was occupied with either being on stage, or sorting out parts of set or props in the backstage area. I don't see why they couldn't have used another person to make the logistical elements of the show run a lot smoother, however this didn't detract from the performance as much as it could have (full credit to the stage manager).
It is an impossibility to accurately portray an insane character on the stage, and I believe this is acknowledged by Fenton and Lucas, being that they are experienced and well practiced craftsmen. The general idea (from my experiences) is to either portray a higher energy character (bordering clowning) or lower (hiding the truth of the character for a dramatic reveal) to communicate insanity on stage. De Profundis went for the higher energy option, displaying a rambling man communicating his emotions with large gestures. This technique would have had a more profound effect if the base-level of the action was more heightened, and there was a broader dynamic to the performance. A majority of the show maintained a constant energy, but when this energy peaked, you could feel the audience, totally entranced. If this were to happen more often, the show would have had a much greater effect on the audiences response to the work.
An immensely ambitious project undertaken by Fenton and Lucas, De Profundis has been in development for nine months now and definitely shows a high level of promise. This wonderful show has the potential to go to higher reaches than a simple production in the Visy Theatre. Creating art with the grand literary work of Wilde, and the theatrical excellence of two of Brisbane's most respected theatre artists is a recipe for success. Beautiful use of the English language and an excellent use of the theatrical aesthetic, what they have created is a show that must be seen. With such immense potential, I doubt that this is the last time we will hear of De Profundis.
You can find more information about De Profundis at http://brisbanepowerhouse.org/events/2015/04/23/oscar-wildes-de-profundis/