Apt wit of past century’s genius
WORK IS THE CURSE OF THE DRINKING CLASSES Written, directed and performed by Jeroen Kranenburg. At 6 Spin Street until Saturday. TRACEY SAUNDERS reviews.
THE WIT and words of Oscar Wilde are well known and his oft repeated quotes are familiar to many. Jeroen Kranenburg does more than just deliver the wealth of carefully turned phrases, he delves in to the core of Wilde and reveals both his words and the life experiences from which they were drawn.
From the moment he walks on to the carefully crafted dais in the restaurant he captures your attention and holds it until the last well delivered verbal blow. What is startling about the performance is how relevant his pithy observations about the 19th century are in 2012.
His comments about the financial tyranny, and his observation that “empires fall when they have to pay the bills”, are surprisingly apt in a time of fiscal cliffs and failing economies. Aside from the comic value of Wilde’s acerbic wit, his astute observations of the nature of humanity are both revealing and thought provoking. From broad political pronouncements on religion to deeply personal criticisms of marriage his sharp tongue knew no limits. His analysis of national identities is as scathing of the banality of the Swiss who produced “theologians and waiters” as it is dismissive of the British with his pronouncement that one of the first requisites of sanity is “to disagree with three-fourths of the British public”.
Kranenburg reveals the melancholy and deep disappointment which was the source of much of Wilde’s writing. For Wilde “the supreme vice was shallowness” and it is abundantly clear that despite being accused of many vices, shallowness was not one of them.
Wilde’s humiliation at the hands of the divorce courts, the bankruptcy courts and finally the common court led him to question the notions of morality as espoused at the time and resulted in some of his most poignant writing. He languished in prison for two years and his experience of incarceration led him to say, “A day in prison on which one does not weep is a day on which one’s heart is hard, not a day on which one’s heart is happy.”
The evening’s performance runs the gamut from finance to art, marriage to religion and the breadth of Wilde’s writing belies his self deprecating proclamation that he was a “spendthrift of his own genius”. Wilde lived with passion and spoke and wrote about his life with relish. Kranenburg allows us a glimpse into the wealth of material he produced. There will be much to delight the stalwart Wilde aficionado and even more to secure him a new following.
Kranenburg’s familiarity with and fondness for Wilde is evident and the longevity of the show has allowed an intimacy to develop between him and the English dandy.
This production premiered in February 1986 at the Stalhouderij Theatre in Amsterdam and has travelled from stages in Berlin, London and New York to local venues in Hogsback and Grahamstown.
The building which houses 6 Spin Street Restaurant is a fitting venue for the show. It was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and built in 1902, two years after Wilde’s death in 1900. Aside from the synchronicity of historical dates, the venue has a charm and sense of place which sets the perfect mood for Wilde’s banter. You will be forgiven for thinking that you are in a bistro in Paris at the end of the last century being beguiled by arguably one of the most accomplished writers in the English language.
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