The Masks of Oscar Wilde – Scottish Storytelling Centre

Written by Shaul Ezer

Directed by Jen McGregor

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Masks keep many of us safe, or so we think. They’re a way to project into the world for gain, for security. Some wear them better than others. Some even manage to juggle three or four, maybe even six. And one of Ireland, the world’s foremost creative poets and writers, Oscar Wilde, was no stranger to the art of crafting personas. Matchmaker Production’s returning show, The Masks of Oscar Wilde, initially begins with a short excerpt from Wilde’s The Happy Prince – before transforming into the last thing anyone wants to see: a PowerPoint presentation.

But be seated, ye of little faith, as this cleverly framed lecture enables Jen McGregor to manipulate expectations – infusing a chaotic playfulness to the stuffy imagery of literature studies, mixing in heaps of Queer history and theory. In essence, Shaul Ezer’s play also holds itself with two masks: an informative account of Wilde’s life, and an animated, eager sense of the dramatic. Wilde would be proud.

Attempting to measure Wilde’s life can be done in a myriad of manners, with as many positive accounts of the Irish poet and writer as there are negative. Wilde’s life works and legal battles continue to create ripples of discomfort and uncertainty even amongst his fiercest supporters. Something we suspect he wouldn’t mind – the drama of it all. This production seeks not to fall on either side of Wilde’s actions, but to present these personas to a curious audience, and pay reverence to the works produced along the way.

While the two-hander performance has benefits – McGergor’s direction is an invaluable asset for Matchmaker Productions, faults within the original script (chiefly pacing) are tackled as tightly as possible, a sense of movement incorporated around the Scottish Storytelling Centre Netherbow stage to expand on this. A deal of Wilde’s life is relegated to cliff notes, understandably given the wealth of information out there but is a touch too plain for the informed, a barrage for those just discovering Wilde.

What significantly boosts the speed of the show, and access, is its flair for the dramatic – with brief snippets of Wilde’s work – as well as some delightfully roguish graffitied slides from Mark Bolsover. Enabling this to the fullest are our professor and student (but so much more), performed by Catherine Bisset and Conor O’Dwyer. And rather than limit themselves to these roles, Bisset and O’Dwyer instead identify themselves as ‘A’ and ‘B’, placeholders in this two-hander, turning their performances into various fictitious, and very real persons.

Conor O’Dwyer captures a touching fragility while performing excerpts of Wilde’s The Happy Prince, flittering as the tale’s magnificent Swallow. But don’t for a moment fret this means the performance is anything other than a beautifully performed piece, switching between a gleeful enthusiasm as the student, contrasted by the more elitist hauteur which often accompanies O’Dwer’s other performances – particularly the magistrates involved with Wilde’s trials.

Switching between the professor, Lady Bracknell and Wilde themselves with deft ease – costume being the chief signifier for a shift in persona, the always astute Bisset, who is at their most comfortable when playing with the lamentable state of things: the truth behind the mask so to speak. Perched with a versatile command, Bisset takes to the show with ease – finishing out her run of the show, following her displacement during its Fringe success.

The Masks of Oscar Wilde offers but a slice of the various ways in which one of literature’s finest weavers of language conjured narratives. All while masquerading under a variety of personas. Each mask alone could receive a full work, but Matchmaker Theatre’s piece serves as an excellent starting point for those unfamiliar with Wilde’s place in history and makes for an equally engaging show for those of us who join Wilde in laying the gutter, with their heads to the stars.

Cleverly Framed

The Masks of Oscar Wilde was performed at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on April 22nd.
Running time of fifty minutes without interval.
For additional information relating to the show, and Matchmaker Theatre’s work, please consult their website here.

Photo Credit – Emily Ingram


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