ARTICLE: CHILDREN’S AUTHOR AND GUEST WRITER LIANE MORRIS EXPLORES THE FAIRY TALES WRITTEN BY THE FAMOUS OSCAR WILDE AND THE INTERNATIONAL PRODUCTION WILD CREATURES WHICH PLAYS AT RIVERSIDE IN JULY
Everyone’s heard of Oscar Wilde. They know that he was famous for writing plays full of wicked wit and that he was gaoled for being gay. Some might also know that he only wrote one novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. What a lot of people don’t know is that he also wrote fairy tales – 2 books of them in fact, The Happy Prince and Other Tales and The House of Pomegranates. It is his fairy tales that are used as the foundation for the upcoming Wilde Creatures by Tall Stories and Nica Burns Productions direct from London’s West End to Riverside Theatres in July.
In the 1880s, before Oscar Wilde became really famous, he was married. He loved his wife Constance and they had 2 boys Cyril and Vyvyan. He was considered a devoted father and believe it or not, a rather conventional one. Oscar’s own mother and father were Irish intellectuals and his mother collected Irish folk tales. His wife Constance wrote children’s stories. Loving his children as he did and surrounded as he was by folk tales and stories for children, it can be no surprise that he wrote his books of fairy tales for his sons. It is widely accepted that the publication of The Happy Prince and Other Tales marked the real beginning of his genius and creativity. The work for which he is remembered was all written in the following 10 years.
During the mid-1800s fairy tales had become more popular following the translations of The Brothers Grimm and the success of Hans Christian Anderson. Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales have a lot in common with the style of the day with often dark themes, pathos and sadness, religious overtones and explorations of human nature. Against this search for soul however, there is a lightness and beauty (Wilde did revere all things beautiful after all), and a playful irony that hints at the biting wit to come in his later plays.
Wilde’s fairy tales contain themes that include reversals of fortune, loss and lamentation, selfishness and compassion and of course, transformation. Wilde uses imagination to explore our understanding of what it is to be human, with love at the centre of our beings, and children are quicker to understand this than adults. That is the beauty of fairy tales. But imagination is not only for children and neither are Wilde’s fairy tales. It is clear that they were meant as a moral exploration of humanity and as such, appeal to adults and children. There is also a whole additional depth of meaning that can be read into them if one knows enough about Wilde’s personal life, with some academics believing that there was more than a hint of prophesy in them. All in all, his fairy tales are not to be dismissed and should be included in any serious study of Oscar Wilde.
Wilde’s stories endure with modern audiences because they reflect a more modern consciousness than the fairy tales of the Victorian era from which they hark. He wrote subversively to undermine the Victorian era stereotypes and often wrote ‘answers’ to the stories of Hans Christian Anderson who he did not agree with. His own values and sense of morality is more in keeping with our own, in this century, and goes some way to prove that Wilde was a man before his time. His fairy tales provide a rich vein of work for others to draw from in the creation of theatre that still speaks to children and modern audiences.
Wilde Creatures borrows from The Happy Prince to create a framing device – the townsfolk wish to erect a new statue and must choose a deserving citizen. They pluck characters from several of his stories and place them in this town, cleverly recreating the tone and morality of the originals and adapting them for modern audiences. The production uses four actors, simple staging, singing, musical instruments and brilliant storytelling to keep audiences enthralled.
The characters they choose to include in their storytelling are easily relate-able to modern audiences who may recognise themselves or others in their foibles. The spoilt brat of a princess from The Birthday of the Infanta is one such character. Wilde’s story is about perceptions of beauty and juxtaposes the external beauty of the princess against the internal beauty of an ugly dwarf who dies of a broken heart when he sees his reflection in a mirror for the first time and realises that the princess doesn’t love him but is laughing at him. She dismisses his death as a minor inconvenience. Not a very nice person.
Another character borrowed from Wilde is the rich miller who exploits a poor gardener from The Devoted Friend, a story of selfishness, trust, self-importance and the exploitation of innocence. The Nightingale and the Rose with themes of sacrifice, love of love and materialism is also represented. The student character from this story is very knowledgeable but knows nothing about love. This story went on to inspire ballets and operas, even paintings and a film.
Tall Stories, who bring us Wilde Creatures direct from London, were nominated for an Olivier Award for their production of The Gruffalo and are well known for their work in children’s theatre, often seen as setting the benchmark. Don’t miss the chance to introduce the young people in your life to the extraordinary world of Oscar Wilde, brilliantly portrayed by masters of their craft.
Wilde Creatures is playing at Riverside Theatres 19 – 21 July.