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First Nighter: In London With Oscar Wilde, Harold Pinter, Charles Dickens and Former Movie Star William Haines

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London-- Rupert Everett has just won an award for playing Oscar Wilde in David Hare's melancholy play, The Judas Kiss, at the Duke of York's, and it's not difficult to reckon why.
The playwright concentrates on the periods of time leading up to Wilde's two-year imprisonment for gross indecency and away from it. Hare deftly shows Wilde devoting himself to the hot-headed Lord Alfred Douglas (greatly accomplished young Freddie Fox), known as Bosie.

What Hare studies in the action -- taking place in two different hotel rooms Dale Ferguson has designed -- is scandalous behavior. His point is not that two men are engaged in a sexual relationship but that one of them is so far superior in intelligence and sophistication to the callow other.

The hypocrisy of Victorian England is a related target. It's played out by randy bellhop Arthur Wellesley (Ben Hardy), in a dalliance with a maid called Phoebe Cane (Kirsty Oswald) and under the eyes of butler Sandy Moffatt (Alister Cameron). Moffatt's idea of punishment is demanding his own sub rosa dalliance with Arthur, and for it receives no Wilde-tinged retribution.

The one upright figure in all this is Wilde friend Robert Ross (Cal Macaninch), whose only reward is disdain. The remaining character is naked Galileo Masconi (the chiseled and well-endowed Tom Colley), whom Bosie, also naked, enjoys while Wilde looks on. Everett's manner during this extended sequence is absolutely riveting.

As guided by Neil Armfield, Everett moves through the work -- actually, he sits in one chair for most of the second act -- emanating a great man's awareness of a folly from which he finds it impossible to extricate himself. This is a memorable portrait of someone on to himself and on to the inevitable consequences.
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Hollywood gets yet another jab to the gut -- to a large extent deserved -- in The Tailor-Made Man, at the Arts, that Claudio Macor and Amy Rosenthal have adapted as a musical from his play about William "Billy" Haines's 50-year love affair with Jimmy Shields.

Anyone drawing a blank on the Haines name is forgiven. The one-time movie-star (Marion Davies was a longtime friend) was banned from the MGM lot when Louis B. Mayer could no longer abide his contract player's shameless gay exploits. Haines bounced back when he and Shields formed an interior-decorating business that the best and richest Tinseltown folk swore by.

The replay of Haines's life with Shields is framed as a 1974 interview the now aging boyfriend gives to an inquisitive reporter. It's one of those quick-stop-at-crucial-events items that trivializes fascinating lives--with Dylan Turner as Haines, Faye Tozer at Davies, Mike McShane as Mayer and Bradley Clarkson as the younger Shields doing their level best under Macor's direction.

The music is by Duncan Walsh Atkins and Adam Meggido, who also wrote the lyrics. Some of them have 1920s-1930s bounce, but it's hard to credit a score cluttered with off-rhymes like "gentle" rhymed with "Shirley Temple."

Also, there's a huge irony undermining The Tailor-Made Man having to do with its obvious low budget. Here's fabulous decorator Haines celebrated on shabby sets that would have made the real Haines and Shields blanch.
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That Harold Pinter is enigmatic isn't surprising news, but having seen Old Times twice in one day, at the Harold Pinter, I have to say this one takes the enigma cake. Next to it everything else Pinter-made is as accessible as the Dick and Jane readers.

Twice in one day, because, in another of those intriguing acting stunts, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams switch the Kate and Anna roles from performance to performance -- and even accede to a coin-toss outcome every once in a while.
Rufus Sewell is Deeley, the only man in the cast, and who, by being the lone fellow, seems to be the fulcrum of a three-way power struggle. I offer the guess because, at one point in the 80-minute script (including the obligatory Pinter pauses and silences), the phrase "odd man out" is uttered.

The dialogue may be abstruse -- Pinter probably wants us to make of it what we will, just as he probably did when he'd finished it -- but director Ian Rickson's production is commendable. It's got to be said that Scott Thomas is strong in both roles -- stern and remote as wife Kate and lively as interloper Anna -- while Williams is better as Kate -- also stern and remote -- than she is as Anna.

Sewell plays Deeley's befuddlement plangently. (Was Pinter working out his own uncertainty about the women in his life?) It's possible that as a result of Scott Thomas and Williams alternating, they're getting the bulk of attention, but at the final fade-out, when Sewell is left looking abandoned by both Anna and Kate, he's the one giving the memorable performance.
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Adapting Charles Dickens for the stage is an established tradition. It began in his lifetime and continues now with Great Expectations brought to funny, scary, theatrical life, at the Vaudeville, by adapter Jo Clifford and director/costumer Graham McLaren. Their notion is that the adult Pip (Paul Nivison) is recalling his experiences as a young poor boy entering a larger world which, rich or poor, he never fully grasps. He does his recounting when returning to scheming benefactress Miss Haverham's gaudy, cobweb-covered mansion. He's arrived with his beloved, star-crossed Estella (Grace Rowe) -- the point of their visit being to figure out what went wrong for them over the decades.

The approach isn't a bad one, something like an elaborate Wikipedia precis. All the important Dickens creations are included and well played -- escaped convict Magwitch (Chris Ellison), kindly Joe Gargery (Josh Elwell), abusive Mrs. Joe (Isabelle Joss), helpful friend Herbert Pocket (Rys Warrington), abrupt Jaggers (Jack Ellis) and, of course, distrait Miss Haversham (Paula Wilcox) and ever-resilient young Pip (Taylor Jay-Davies).

Robin Peoples's design for the lavish room where Miss Haversham's wedding never took place is gorgeous in its deteriorating state, and what everyone looks forward to -- the fire that eventually demolishes it -- is blazingly effective, as are Matt McKenzie's sound and Kai Fisher's lighting.