Wilde night in store at Maltings

LOOK forward to a Wilde night at The Maltings this weekend when the venue welcomes The Original Theatre Company to the stage with their production of 'The Importance of Being Oscar'.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 14th July 2010, 10:28 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th July 2010, 10:28 am

The man tasked with donning the suit and cravat of the famous writer in the one man show is Alastair Whatley, who also runs the company.

Not a bad accomplishment for a 26 year-old who was sought out for the role in May last year when the Wilde Theatre in Berkshire were looking to stage a show suitable for their 25th birthday celebrations.

'The Importance of Being Oscar' has been in London's West End with Simon Callow as Oscar, but Alastair is the first person to tour the role since the 1970s.

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Although he is still considered to be a literary great, Oscar Wilde didn't shy away from controversy during his rollercoaster of a life, and Alastair said this made him an even more interesting character to portray.

Speaking to 'In The Limelight', he said: "The Importance of Being Oscar' is like a biography of Oscar Wilde, anyone who comes along to the show will hear excerpts from celebrated works like 'Dorian Gray' and 'The Importance of Being Earnest', the plays we all know and love him for.

"The first half of the show looks at Oscar's early life in Ireland and his quest for fame and celebrity.

"But then audiences will also get to see his dramatic fall from grace. In 1895 he had two sell-out plays in the West End; was favoured by Royals and the public but then all of a sudden he ended up in prison and became the most hated, reviled man in the country.

"The director said he saw me as a perfect Oscar and even though there is that dark, shadowy part of his life that you don't necessarily want to be associated with, it's still a massive honour to be chosen too play him."

As if portraying one of history's most flamboyant and controversial characters wasn't a big enough task, Alastair also has the responsibility of carrying the whole show on his shoulders.

But although he confessed to some initial nerves, he said he is revelling in his time in the spotlight.

He continued: "To be playing Oscar Wilde at 26 is huge and then there's the added honour that it is effectively my show.

"I think I'm the youngest ever actor to play Oscar on stage. The role does come with a certain degree of baggage but I hope I'm giving it a fresh, energetic approach.

"Before the first show at the Wilde Theatre I was definitely very nervous but being in front of an audience is actually very liberating.

"Performing a one man show I get to dictate the entire pace of the evening and the audience are implicit in what happens. This creates a special relationship between myself and them, a bit like the relationship a stand up comic has with his crowd.

"I was worried if people would still find Oscar's story both gripping and entertaining but the reaction so far has been tremendous."

As well as being paraded on the stage, the life of Oscar Wilde has also frequented the small and big screen, most notably in the film 'Wilde' with Stephen Fry as the main man.

And even though he thought the 'QI' host excelled in the role and thoroughly enjoyed the film, Alistair said he thought the play offered something extra and gave people the opportunity to hear things they'd never previously heard.

"By some accounts Stephen Fry is like the modern equivalent of Oscar and he was brilliantly fitted to the role.

"But the film tended to skirt over some of Oscar's writing, particularly the amazing letters he wrote to his lover Alfred Douglas, which were never heard until 'The Importance of Being Oscar' was brought to the stage.

"They are some of the most amazing pieces of text I've ever read. At times Oscar used his glossy language as a mask but in his letters, and in the play, you get to see him warts and all.

"And there's much more of his fabulous writing in the show. His life was like a work of art and if you come along to see the play you'll walk away knowing things you never knew before."

Tickets for 'The Importance of Being Oscar' are priced 11/10 concessions; circle 12 and box 15.