It’s strange to think that one of Reading’s most famous landmarks is also one that was home to so much misery.
Yet Reading Gaol, finally closed a couple of years ago after centuries of use as a place of incarceration, has become a place famous for the creation of one of our great works of art. Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis was written while he was locked up for indecency–essentially imprisoned for being himself.
Now, as part of a summer that sees the jail open to the public for the first time, art and theatre are collaborating to both mourn and celebrate Wilde’s time in Reading. The Inside series of events is running now, with famous names like Ralph Fiennes and Maxine Peake reading De Profundis. Meanwhile, a series of site-specific artworks explores the inner lives of the damned souls that found themselves behind the high walls of the place.
Our own Juliet England has been to a show put on by the Reading Between The Lines theatre company, The Trial Of Oscar Wilde. It is, as she reports for Alt Reading, a powerful experience. She says:
“What was shown so vividly was Wilde’s ghastly descent from debonair, flamboyant and defiant artist – hurling the witty quips across that imaginary net with devastating flair and charm – to a ruined, broken man. His passion and desperation grow steadily as tension rises towards the climax. This truly was a sterling performance from Gomm, who looked so physically different by the end.
And what a strong ending it was, too, using one of Wilde’s most famous quotes before we were plunged into darkness, but with the lights from outside illuminating the arched chapel windows. Most importantly, this show powerfully conveyed the grotesqueness of what happened to Wilde while still incorporating some deft touches of humour.”
The Inside event continues for the rest of the month. We strongly recommend a visit.