views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Mrs Oscar Wilde
Cecil Sharp House
22nd August 2017


Publicity image for Mrs Oscar Wilde

Photography provided by Wild Wolfe Productions

She was married to one of history's best known writers, yet no one seems to know her name. She wrote, but her books were last in print 90 years ago. If Constance Lloyd could come back in 2017, she would quickly make friends with Lexi Wolfe, who brings the extraordinary but largely forgotten wife of Oscar Wilde back in this moving and educational performance.

Through her regular letters to a friend in Cambridge, this self-directed piece charts Lloyd's short life from her younger years, through her time as Wilde's wife and mother to their two children, to her sudden decline into terminal illness. Wolfe effortlessly and effectively transforms and inhabits these three periods – as she giggles uncontrollably whilst imparting the news of her engagement, I had a strong urge to giggle with her. With a simple costume change, she then transforms into a rather austere and status-conscious character as we move on to her married life, and the content of the letters becomes heavier and more difficult to express as time progresses and the cracks appear in her marriage.

It is during Lloyd's younger years that we learn of her politics - as a feminist, and someone who sees women's advancement as a matter of equal contribution and an example to set. Wolfe also touches upon the possibility that Lloyd influenced her husband's works, in some places quite heavily - her letters detail how she transcribed whilst he dictated, and how she admits to making adjustments where she felt it necessary.

Throughout this, Wolfe portrays a brilliant and determined mind, frustrated by her social ranking yet dignified to the last. The decision to make the entire play a reading of Lloyd's letters may seem a flimsy concept on paper, however Wolfe's gestures and body language bring the whole thing to life. She perfectly conveys the exasperation of having so much disappointment and uncertainty to share, conforming to strict Victorian etiquette and insinuating rather than expressing too much directly.

Do you need to know anything about Lloyd, or indeed Wilde, to enjoy this? No - the whole point is that little is known about the protagonist, and it is pitched to be accessible, so if you are unfamiliar with the subject matter then you need only sit back and let the capable and authoritative Wolfe fill you in. It also serves as a fascinating journey into Victorian sensibilities and social attitudes.

The only element that took away from the show to any degree was the rather clunky lighting and sound. The lighting seemed incapable of either being raised and dimmed smoothly, or staying the same colour. The music, rather than being slowly turned down, was simply killed mid-track by pressing stop. Despite the lack of refinement, this actually did very little to diminish the quality of the piece, as the focus was very much the one-woman show.

Wolfe clearly loves both her craft and the subject of this latest production, and her enthusiasm is infectious. She hopes to take the show to a bigger stage, something I am very much in favour of. The show at once entertains, educates, and creates more questions than it answers, spurring-on keen researchers to go and learn more about a personality and a mind that deserves more recognition. Almost certainly not by coincidence, Wolfe is the very trailblazer that Lloyd envisioned.

Mrs Oscar Wilde ran from 22nd to 23rd August 2017 at Cecil Sharp House, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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