De Profundis is the most personal and wrenching of Oscar Wilde’s works, written not as a ‘work’ but as an explanation, an account and a document of accountability to his beloved Bosie while he served his time in prison for gross indecency. The document was never published during Wilde’s lifetime, and hearing it now told perfectly by Simon Callow, it seems more unjust and shameful than it may perhaps have done at the time.
It is a letter, penned by Wilde in the last month of his imprisonment, detailing how he came to his punishment, who was culpable and why, after everything, there are some facts that still pierced him to his core. After being released from his two-year imprisonment, Wilde never truly recovered, and did not regain his artistic flair. He died in exile in Paris, De Profundis being one of the last things he penned.
Wilde had a tremendous skill at voicing the deeply profound feelings of human nature, be they joy, humour, love, or in this case the greatest of all those; sorrow. Simon Callow’s masterful rendition fulfils the broken genius of Wilde’s words with superb skill and feeling. The design is elegant but bare, using only lights to simulate some passage of time or the passage of the darkness and hopelessness of Wilde’s own mind.
This is not a piece of fiction, it is not an essay; De Profundis is deeply personal, and only a master like Callow could bring it to such vibrant life in its entirety, and express the unspeakable injustice of Wilde’s imprisonment. The document is long, and this production would be just as good abridged, but Callow carries it to its completion.