Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis
Brisbane Powerhouse & Metro Arts
Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre
April 22 – May 2 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
WARNING: This work contains nudity, sexually explicit material and poetry
On opening night Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis was cancelled due to technical problems so I had to find another night to go back to see it. It was a Wednesday night, nothing unusual about that, except all was not well with the world. With social media and our heads and hearts full of mixed feelings for the events going down in Bali at the time, there was already a slightly tragic and fragile air to proceedings. Terrified of being locked out and missing the show completely – even Kris Stewart wasn’t allowed into the theatre when he got there late the previous night – I arrived early, having driven through sunset and drizzling rain to be there with time to spare and discover plenty of empty parking spaces. I love Brisbane Powerhouse parking. (South Brisbane, why must you charge us so much to visit your venues?).
A capacity crowd queued all the way up the stairs and back to Box Office (it seems everybody now knows about the strict lock out policy!), and it took an extraordinarily long time for bodies to find seats. Actually, it probably wasn’t a long time at all, but Brian Lucas was already standing, naked, in a corner of white canvas walls, which would be his prison cell for the evening. It must have felt like an eternity for him.
The words and images projected across the canvas are integral to the production, helping to stitch disparate thoughts together and reiterate particular points, thoughts, names, dates. Flowers bloom and swirl like psychedelic digital postcards of time-lapsed desert wildflowers and quotes thrown across the walls are repeated. And repeated. And repeated. Combined with lighting states lulling us into a false sense of security before brightening and making us face facts again, I can understand why the opening night performance didn’t go ahead. It’s a challenging text and I’m pleasantly surprised to see just how well the elements combine – nothing corny or gimmicky in the design or the performance – to give us multiple ways in to this production.
I was worried that any contemporary adaptation of De Profundis would be the wrong sort of gritty; impenetrable, all doom and gloom, making us feel miserable, desperately hopeless and ultimately alone. Instead I was able to tell industry friends after the show that I’d enjoyed it! They looked at me strangely… #whatevs
Since seeing the show and actually stopping to write about it the question of what a reviewer should offer to artists and audiences has come up again across multiple social media platforms. Does it ever go away? I hope not. It’s a necessary conversation and one which, I’m pleased to say, the artists I know are always willing to continue.
I asked Lucas what he would hope to get from somebody responding to his work in any sort of formal, official sense. So, for current and future reference…
1. An honest response
2. An informed response
3. Constructive criticism, and
4. A sense of the “big picture” context (both in the immediate ecology of the sector, and in the on-going history/future of the sector).
Wilde was imprisoned and initially deprived of his books and writing materials so you can imagine the outpouring that occurred once he was given pen and paper towards the end of his incarceration. The 50 000-word letter to his ex-lover became De Profundis, and the musings and imaginings of Lucas and Director/Co-Creator David Fenton became this very intense version of the work. The stars above and the 1970s Tupperware toned linoleum floor beneath place us quite succinctly, without any fuss, within two worlds, two eras not so very far apart.
In the intimate Visy Theatre there’s no hiding from Lucas’s measured gaze or his (mostly) warm, articulate words.
It’s a very personal experience, as if he’s speaking just to me…to each of us. The audience vibe is open, admiring, appreciative, contemplative. The industry peeps are here with members of the general public. There is something profound if that’s what you’re looking for, and something very simple if you want to take away a simple, single message. There are moments of pin-drop silence and stillness.
Lucas wears his nakedness completely naturally and performs his slightly more gratuitous acts as if he were alone in the space, however; there remains a distinct knowing that someone is always watching. (We’re privy to every other move he makes so why not microphone fellatio and masturbation?!).
Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis will return, there’s no doubt about that.
But I wonder how well it would ever work without Lucas? His movement, physicality and simple, raw realisation of the character without historical endowments or embellishments is beautiful. He’s an extraordinary performer. I just hope he’s cleared his schedule because this piece will surely bring Brian Lucas back to the Powerhouse before taking him around the world.