Review: Vengeance at Esher Theatre

Review: Vengeance at Esher Theatre

“Vengeance adds to the canon with remarkable sincerity and attention to detail.”

Oscar Wilde has fascinated the generations, and not only because of his literature. Books have been written about his tumoultus personal life, and Vengeance adds to the canon with remarkable sincerity and attention to detail.  

By any definition, it is an ambitious play. It tackles a vast array of issues, from the trial’s national-political background (and “Irishness” of Wilde, his mother and Queensberry’s barrister, Edward Carson), to homosexuality, societal repercussions of living one’s truth, zeitgeist and impending clash of epochs. If this looks like a lot, it’s because it is. Not every arc is given enough time to resound as it should. But these that do – mainly the complex relations between Wilde and Bosie – do so very effectively. Meaning, expect outbreaks, breakups, breakdowns and breakthroughs. The song sung by Wilde in prison is possibly the best, too, as it actually adds to the play instead of recurring to whatever has been said previously.  

The acting is genuinely phenomenal, across the board. Riley Clark as Wilde is perfectly unlikeable yet pitiable – his mannerisms are careful and deliberate which in turn makes an occasionally shown sincerity of his affections even more impressive. John Newcombe (sadly, not the tennis player) brings on a Broadway-level performance, particularly in his last moments on stage. His bitterness and stiff formality delightfully contrast Clark’s Wilde, and in the end when he reminisces his father and sons, he rises to the great heights of tragic monologues. Ross Scarfield’s woefully conflicted Edward Carson delivers a single particularly well-written speech lamenting the irony of condemning his “fellow Irishman” to harsh prison – his sadness and cynicism all work in concert with excellent pacing.  

The idea of having songs that do not push the plot forward but rather expose the characters’ inward monologues is as interesting as it is difficult to pull off and here the results are, well, mixed. The music is gorgeous, and most definitely deserves a live orchestra treatment.  

Vengeance is not completely free from either sentimentality or sensationalism, but it is, overall, an intriguing theatre experiment. It is somewhat occupied by the old guard of a musical theatre convention but manages to get some raw qualities out of its rattling swords. And it is actually, really, genuinely interesting – and bound to make you want to know more about Wilde and his contemporaries, his pride and his sad yet expected demise.   

 Vengeance is currently on tour:

  • 22/23 February: Northbrook Theatre, Worthing, W. Sussex
  • 25 February: Epsom Playhouse, Epsom, Surrey
  • 28 February: Elgiva Theatre, Chesham, Bucks
  • 2/3 March: Irish Cultural Centre, Hammersmith, London