A FASCINATING story connected to Oscar Wilde arrives at the Town Hall Theatre next week with Brendan Murphy’s Kicking Oscar’s Corpse. Set against the backdrop of WWI, the play centres on a libel case brought about by the dancer Maud Allan against the right wing British MP Noel Pemberton-Billing in 1918.
Billing was convinced that homosexuality was rife in English high society and because of this, England was losing the war. To further publicise his cause, he published an article in his own newspaper The Imperialist under the heading ‘The Cult of the Clitoris’ which implied that the actress Maud Allan was a lesbian and a German spy. Although now long forgotten Maud Allan was a major celebrity in 1918, famous for her interpretation of the dance of Salome from Oscar Wilde’s play. The trial caused a sensation in its day which was duly dubbed ‘The Trial of the Century’
The first act introduces the major protagonists and the lead-up to the trial, while the second act, using actual court transcripts, reconstructs the most salient exchanges of the trial, which includes the testimony of Lord Alfred Douglas - Wilde’s former lover. The trial often descends into farce, where instead of a libel case, the works of Oscar Wilde are - once again - exposed to prejudiced scrutiny. With turn-of-the-century themes of bigotry and innate misogynistic attitudes towards women of the time, Kicking Oscar’s Corpse will resonate with a modern audience for its combination conspiracy, judges, prejudice, MP’s and dancing girls - ingredients worthy of any modern tabloid.
To add authenticity and flavour to the production, costume designer Dervla O'Riordan painstakingly reproduced the original Maude Allan costume. A professional dancer, Stephanie Dufresne, then recreated the ‘Salome’ dance, which was filmed and converted to sepia in order to create a 1918 ambiance.
Fragile Theatre Company is a new company dedicated to creating newly written pieces brought to life in unique ways. Writer Brendan Murphy originally created Kicking Oscar’s Corpse for last year’s Oscar Wilde festival in Galway. This multimedia production was widely appreciated by all who attended. It pushes boundaries, as the actors move rapidly between narration and characterisation.
Liverpudlian Brendan Murphy, is a long time Galway resident and a previous winner of the Cúirt Poetry slam. “This is my first time writing for theatre,” he tells me. “We did it last year for the Oscar Wilde festival. It was like a dramatised lecture in a way, we have tried to theatricalise it more this time. I first came across the story in a second hand bookshop when I found Philip Hoare’s book Wilde’s Last Stand which is a very comprehensive and well written account of the whole case. I have always been interested in Wilde and his story, and this was a part of his story I had not previously come across. When I read the book I thought it would make a very good stage production.”
The show went down very well on its first run last year; “It got a great response, of course that audience were all interested in Wilde’s story,” Brendan relates. “Michael Seeney of the Oscar Wilde Society came up afterwards to me and I had a great talk with him, and he said it was one of his favourite pieces of the Wilde story and he told me he even had a Maud Allan biscuit tin!”
Cast members of Kicking Oscar’s Corpse include Brendan Murphy, Tommy O’Donnell, Aeneas O’Donnell, Laney Farrelly Hanlon, and Anna O’Donnell. The play is directed by Hannah O’Donnell and runs in the Town Hall Studio from Thursday,September 17 to Saturday 19. For tickets contact 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie