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In Extremis by Neil Bartlett at the King's Head Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 21st Nov 2012 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

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Mr Wilde, why are you here?

Neil Bartlett’s short 50-minute play was first presented at the National Theatre in conjunction with De Profundis to mark the centenary of Oscar Wilde’s death. The two-hander is now revived by Kean Productions with two alternating casts – Katie Copeland or Fiz Marcus as Mrs Robinson and Nigel Fairs or Charlie Buckand as Oscar Wilde. 

On the night of the 24th March 1895, Mrs Robinson, a society palm reader, agreed to see Oscar Wilde in her London flat - one week before his trial against the Marquess of Queensbury, later dubbed the 'trial of the century', which led to his downfall. In Extremis attempts to understand why one of the most celebrated men of his age enlists the help of a complete stranger, probably a charlatan, for advice about a potentially life-changing decision.

As this production is on only two days a week, it uses the set of The Upstairs Room. For that reason, most of the furniture and part of the wall are covered with white sheets. This is quite fitting as we are addressed by ghosts. The protagonists are long dead. As Oscar Wilde is standing in the ante-room, waiting for Mrs Robinson to receive him, his hostess introduces herself to the audience: “Interpretation is my profession.” She shares some of her secrets with us, confiding in us how she lets her clients wait to make them feel uneasy and that a good deal of her work is based on intuition and watching her clients. We learn quite a bit about the science of palm reading indeed. Finally, Oscar Wilde is admitted. He sits down, smoking incessantly. Whenever he opens his mouth a witticism escapes him: “Everybody should have his palm read once a month.” Yet there is a vulnerable and lonely man behind the self-assured and somewhat aloof façade, somebody who needs to talk, but he will not let his guard down. 

I saw Katie Copeland as Mrs Robinson and Nigel Fairs as Oscar Wilde. They both conveyed the constrictions of their characters, expected by society to keep their guard by being as politely insincere as necessary to hide what they really think. Both actors were very good but I was not convinced by the play itself. The narrative structure made it somewhat heavy-handed and the emphasis was actually on Mrs Robinson.

 By Carolin Kopplin

 

Until 9 December 2012

The King’s Head Theatre

Comments

2 Comments

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 5 years ago
    Thanks, Carolin. A shame this piece is a little dated. Sounds like the cast made the best of it.
  • Carolin Kopplin
    by Carolin Kopplin 5 years ago
    I didn't find it dated, just not very exciting. Other reviewers think it's a fantastic play though.
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