February 14, 1895 was the triumphant opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest and the zenith of playwright Oscar Wilde’s career.
Less than 100 days later he found himself a prisoner and bankrupt, sentenced to two years’ hard labour, for the ‘crime’ of being a gay man.
But what happened during the trials and what did Wilde say? Was he harshly treated or the author of his own downfall?
Using the actual words spoken in court, a new play being shown in Chesterfield next week helps the audience to feel what it was like to be in the company of a flawed genius as this less than ideal husband was tragically reduced to a man of no importance.
The Trials of Oscar Wilde has been co-written with Merlin Holland, who is Wilde’s grandson. A champion of his grandfather’s legacy, he is the author of Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde.
Wilde’s affair with Bosie, Lord Douglas, became public when Wilde sued Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, who accused him of being a “posing sodomite”.
Some of the evidence during the libel case led to W ilde being convicted of gross indecency. He never recovered from what happened and three years after his release from prison he was dead.
Merlin said: “Over the years, there have been a number of attempts to tell the story on stage but none of them has really managed to bring alive the drama of Oscar’s courtroom appearances.
“Using the actual words from the libel trial, recently discovered more than 100 years after the event, and with a careful reconstruction of Wilde’s prosecution by the Crown for homosexuality, it’s a chance for audiences to see the real Oscar for the first time.
“This new production shows him fighting for his art as well as his life and we get a real sense of Oscar’s intellect at full stretch – his complexity, wit and deep humanity.”
The Trials of Oscar Wilde features a cast including John Gorick (Holby City), Rupert Mason (EastEnders, A Touch of Frost) and William Kempsell.
Director Peter Craze is also an actor who has appeared in Doctor Who and Blake’s Seven.
The Trials of Oscar Wilde is at the Pomegranate Theatre on Wednesday. Tickets: 01246 345 222 or online at http://www.pomegranatetheatre.co.uk/