That Tiger Life
A solo performance by John H. Bartlett
Oscar Wilde lay on his tomb, like an effigy of himself in front of the open french windows, with a wreath of lilies around his neck. In one corner of the room a young man called Robin Davis was playing the piano.
Suddenly Oscar Wilde sat up, removed his wreath, lit a cigarette and smiled at us. He had been dead, he said, for a hundred years!
What followed was a sparkling and brilliantly witty one-man show about Wilde's death, life, disgrace, imprisonment, release and back again to his death. It was written and performed by John H. Bartlett, actor, writer and theatre designer.
What was extraordinary about this performance was that it managed to convince the audience that it was written by Wilde himself and not by John Bartlett at all. The puns, the turns of phrase, the light, throwaway references to the best-known lines of the plays might have been Wilde's own. The very slightest hint of an Irish accent crept into the beautifully drawled sentences, where every consonant was bitten off at precisely the right moment.
John Bartlett trained to be an actor at the Central School in London and has made careers in both acting and design as well as writing regularly for 'The Stage' on the history of the theatre. Don't miss him!
Robin Davis, who has just taken his A-levels at Exeter School, has won an organ scholarship to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where he will study Maths. At the end of the performance he played a John Field Nocturne about which I know absolutely nothing except that it was exactly the right piece, played in exactly the right way, to conclude such a witty, precise and haunting piece of theatre.
- Sara Vernon
(This review appeared in Estuary Magazine, August 2000)
That Tiger Life
The deliberations of the centenary of the death of Oscar wilde have spread to mugs and key fobs. You might wonder what the great man would have thought of all the hullabaloo. Well here is dear old Oscar - in the person of John H. Bartlett - risen from the grave to give us the inside story.
Bartlett's timely impersonation at the Central Library Music Room allows Wilde to comment on his place in literary history, his weaknesses, his trial. He has been dead for 100 years ("more if you count my time in America"). The great man, always a sucker for a stunt, springs from his coffin, resplendent in a waistcoat, watch and chain, and, naturally, a green carnation buttonhole. The actor has written the script, which cleverly paraphrases many of Wilde's epigrams, and presents him in all his inverted snobbery, his pretentiousness and scathing wit on his contemporaries and reveals the underlying seriousness behind the studied flippancy.
Wilde explains why he ignored the opportunity to escape prosecution, speaks of his upbringing with an uncaring father and a posing mother, shares his realistic view of Lord Alfred Douglas, and says "Why not?" to a series of outrageous propositions.
Underneath the banter is a man dedicated to beauty in all its forms. Of course he was artificial. How could he be otherwise when real life was so grim? He gave stable lads champagne and silver cigarette cases. They wouldn't have known some of the best things in life otherwise. But they blackmailed him just the same.
His script ... is a glorious amalgam of well placed Wildeisms, getting to the heart of the writer's lofty view of life.
The performance is underpinned by pianist Andrew Daldorph, playing light classical pieces by the 18th century Irish composer John Field.
- Allen Saddler
(This review appeared in The Stage, December 7th 2000)