Shaw Theatre, London NW1
Opened 19 October, 2004

Murderous Instincts, Little Women, Pride And Prejudice... the theatrical turkeys are a bit early for Christmas. But this one out-gobbles them all.  The Shaw, next to the British Library at St Pancras, has long had problems establishing an identity for itself.  Its new management really won’t be helped by reopening with DJ Mike Read’s (revised but still very, very dreadful) musical biography of the great writer.

What’s wrong with this show? Ye gods, where to start? The set consists of a couple of potted palms in front of which sit a sedate chamber sextet.  These musicians often drowned out the actors on press night, when the head-mikes kept cutting in and out. At one point they were off onstage and on for the performers whispering in the wings.  Read directs as if it were a concert performance, all face-front and hammy.

Read’s music is light and unexceptional (except for the rather touching "Grief Never Grows Old"), but his lyrics have plonking rhymes to put both The Woman In White AND Brighton Rock to shame.  That’s when they do rhyme, of course.  And as for the script between songs... what in God’s name possessed him to write it also in rhyme (but not metre)? It’s as if Wilde’s life were being recounted by “poet” William McGonagall.

Peter Blake is a skilled musical actor, but... well, a year ago he was in a West End musical that closed a day and a half after it opened. Now he’s Oscar Wilde. The poor man must be accursed.  You can see him, and the rest of the cast, trying hard, but the story is so wildly unsuited to the idiom in which Read has written the script and songs.  God help them, they never have a chance. It’s sheer bloody slaughter.

This was a glittering music-biz press night: even Cliff Richard was there. And yes, they applauded, but they also sniggered, and at one point I clearly heard someone say, “Oh, how ghastly!”  Wilde died when his ear went septic and literally exploded. By the end, I suspect we all identified with this.  Wilde’s grandson says in the programme that Mike Read “brings a new aspect to the story”. Indeed: he makes it crap.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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