The play is running for only a very limited period of 4 weeks at the Playhouse Theatre before transferring to Broadway. This has made the play a very hot ticket, particularly as the giant Hollywood star Liam Neeson is playing Oscar Wilde. The play has therefore produced some hysteria and excitement with great anticipation. However, the play fails to live up to expectation and is only saved by the exceptional acting of Liam Neeson.
The story concentrates on two incidents of Wilde's life in which not much is factually known and thus Hare suggests what may have been said. Act one is set in a London Hotel room after the failure of the Queensberry action and Wilde is about to be arrested for gross indecency. He has a chance to flee the country to France so as to avoid being tried and put into prison. Robbie, an old friend, has made all the arrangements for him to leave and the government, whom would rather not have to try this scandal, has deliberately delayed arresting him to give him time to flee. However, Bosie wishes him to stay and fight, which Wilde decides to do. David Hare explores the reasons for Wilde's decision to stay and face inevitable imprisonment.
Act two is set in Naples, after the release of Wilde from prison. He is almost a broken man, with no money and he has returned to Bosie, although he promised his wife and friends he would not. His mysterious love for Bosie is still great, even though Bosie never contacted him while he was in prison. When Robbie visits to inform Wilde that his wife will divorce him and cut off his allowance unless he leaves Bosie, Wilde refuses to leave, asking why won't people leave him alone and let him live his life his way. However, when Bosie receives a similar bribe from his family, Bosie is not as loyal.
The Judas Kiss is a disappointment for two reasons. Firstly the play is totally miss-cast and secondly David Hare fails to go deep enough into Wilde's and Bosie relationship, which fails to give Wilde's actions credibility. On stage there is no emotion, no special kind of warmth or feeling between them. However, this may be because of the performance of Tom Hollander as Bosie, who does not fit this part at all. I have seen this actor a few times and he always performs the same way! For example, his Bosie is exactly the same character I saw him play in 'The Three penny Opera' at the Donmar and, 'Mojo' and 'The Editing Process' for the Royal Court. His accent and mannerism are just like the comedy actor Griff Rhys Jones, which is very distracting. Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed Tom Hollander's performances in some of his other plays, but for this part he just isn't suitable. Also, unconvincing is Peter Capaldi as Robbie Ross, who most of the time looked and sounded cold and distant. There was no passion and conviction in his performance. The play is saved by Liam Neeson who, although is a top movie actor, here proves what a great stage actor he is as well. His Oscar Wilde is not camp and flirty as is usually portrayed; instead his character is more masculine. Neeson has a strong stage presence and puts in a masterly performance that is convincing and touching.
The play has received mixed reviews from the popular press. BILL HAGERTY of THE NEWS OF THE WORLD says, "It's a rattling good evening". SHERIDAN MORLEY says " Not a great play, but a rich and rewarding evening." The headline to the review in the EVENING STANDARD by NICHOLAS DE JONGH reads "Neeson riveting in study of Wilde's fall from grace". The headline to the review in THE TIMES by BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE reads " Neeson comes up with a 24-carat Oscar". JOHN PETER of THE SUNDAY TIMES says the play is a "Crushing disappointment". PETER HEPPLE of THE STAGE says that Tom Hollander gave "A blinding performance" and believes it is "The best of his career to date".
The Judas Kiss is a play that does not live up to expectation. It is an average play, but is still worth seeing for the talent of Liam Neeson, which is a rare joy to witness.