A new adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s short stories brings to life a playful, all-ages performance weaving together ensemble storytelling and visual delight.
Produced by London based theatre company Suitcase Civilians, Wilde Tales features an assortment of Wilde’s short stories, drawn from his two major collections – The Happy Prince and Other Stories, and A House of Pomegranates, which celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2016.
Among the featured stories brought to life in the show is The Happy Prince, The Birthday of the Infanta, The Selfish Giant, and The Nightingale and the Rose, and Wilde’s poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, written as he served prison time after being convicted of sodomy.
We sat down earlier in the month for a chat with Wilde Tales creator and director Sepy Baghaei ahead of the production’s April debut season at The Space.
Great to chat with you Sepy! What inspired the production?
Someone passed along the stories to me a few years back in 2012, and asked whether I had read Oscar Wilde’s short stories — I didn’t even realise they existed at the time. When I read them, I found they had that similar feeling of joy when you’re a kid —and yet reading them back as an adult you realise they’re rather dark and so twisted, you almost can’t believe we were reading these as children.
You get a whole different experience from them, and enjoy them in a whole different way. I wanted to adapt these stories, I didn’t know of anyone else adapting them. It hasn’t been done very many times before.
So would you say Wilde Tales is essentially bringing Oscar Wilde’s children stories to an adult audience?
Absolutely. I feel it’s a cop out to say it’s for all ages, but it’s really something everyone can enjoy.
What was the writing and adaptation process like for you?
After working through the stories, we some made decisions around the dialogue and the main plot points —I had to do a lot of cutting, the stories are actually quite long which was surprising, and considering they’re written for children.
Each story on stage will be around 10 minutes, there are four stories of Wilde’s, and I’ve written one story in response to the collection. There are lots of characters.
Are the stories interlinked?
We’ve created a character, that’s not really an MC, but essentially moves the show forward, coming in and out, and is linked to the stories more than the audience will first realise. The feel of the show is almost like a travelling troupe of performers going from place to place, telling the stories to travellers who they meet along the way. You discover at the very end of the piece why they tell these stories.
And would you say the stories speak directly to a gay audience?
Reading through the stories it’s again that thing, where as a kid you don’t pick up on certain things being said by the writer. Yet as an adult you can see what Wilde was trying to say in a subtle way.
I realised many of Oscar’s stories contained this element of an ‘outsider’ and looking around the time Oscar Wilde was writing, when being openly gay was still considered illegal, coupled with his prison sentence that affected his career — you come to realise this was a man who was writing such beautiful things but who had to endure such struggle too.
Through my adaptation, I’ve included one of his poems — The Ballad of Reading Gaol — and it’s one he wrote while he was in prison. That’s quite a beautiful one because of the way it’s set in the play. One of the characters has died, and in a way that character is the representation of Wilde in a way, representing innocence and the loss of his innocence.
How will people respond? What will they take away?
Like I said there‘s a theme of the outsider through the piece and I’d like people to walk away thinking about the consequences, both good and bad, when you’re not kind to the people around you, or that outsider character in your life, whoever that may be.
Wilde Tales runs from April 5 to 10 at The Space London (Tues-Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 4:00pm). The company is hosting a post-show ‘Lates’ event on Saturday April 9, including an informal chat with the cast and creative team.
For more information visit Suitcase Civilians online, or The Space website.