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Oscar Wilde Month of May in Reading

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Reading celebrates Oscar Wilde and his links to the town as we near the anniversaries of his incarceration and subsequent release from Reading prison¹. 

A rarely performed one man play, ‘The Importance of Being Oscar,’ is being staged at Reading Rep from 23 May, while a new Augmented Reality exhibition by Reading Guild of Artists opens on the outside walls of Reading Prison on 16 May, the week of the anniversary of Wilde’s liberation. Reading Museum are also organising an Oscar Wilde walk on the anniversary of his incarceration, 25 May.  

From 16 May, a collaboration between Reading Guild of Artists and  VisiAR, a location-based interactive AR visitor experiences business, has created an amazing exhibition of 25 artworks inspired by Reading Gaol. The exhibition, named ‘Outside’, will be accessible both online at https://rga-artists.org.uk/outside as well as via an Augmented Reality gallery sited virtually on the outside wall of the Gaol.  The AR exhibition can be viewed by visitors on their smartphones by scanning a QR code in the vicinity of the Banksy. As well as walking along the wall to view the virtual gallery, visitors can also use their touchscreen to link to the corresponding artwork in the online exhibition to view more details.    

Ken Mawbey, Founder of VisiAR, said: “It’s been an absolute pleasure working with Reading Guild of Artists on this amazing exhibition of Reading Gaol inspired art. I’m delighted that VisiAR will enable visitors to experience the artworks in Augmented Reality on the outside wall of this historic building, alongside the Oscar Wilde work created by Banksy. We’re very appreciative of the close co-operation offered by the Ziran Education Foundation, including providing access to the Gaol to film a promotional video for the exhibition.”   

Channing Bi, Ziran Education Foundation, said: “My team and I are still hard at work on evolving Reading Gaol into a world-renowned hub for the arts. In the meantime, we are proud to have the prison serve as host to innovative exhibits like ‘Outside.’ The ‘Outside’ AR exhibit ingeniously uses next-gen technology to inspire appreciation for heritage and history. It aligns perfectly with our grand mission to bridge Reading Gaol’s future and past.”   

Reading Rep Theatre and Original Theatre are performing Micheál Mac Liammóir’s renowned play, The Importance of Being Oscar, for the first time in many years from 23 May – 8 June. The one-man play immerses audiences in a compelling journey through the loves and losses, successes and struggles of the iconic man – from the eccentric socialite to the imprisoned outcast. Liberally laced with Wilde’s signature wit and wisdom, the show features excerpts of many of his best-loved works including An Ideal Husband, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest and The Ballad of Reading of Gaol.  

Reading Rep’s Founding Artistic Director Paul Stacey, “Restaging ‘The Importance of Being Oscar’ in Reading, particularly at Reading Rep Theatre, a venue so close to Reading Gaol where the icon was imprisoned, holds great significance in honouring and celebrating Reading’s cultural heritage. As the Gaol undergoes significant changes, this production serves as a tribute to our city’s past and present. We’re excited to invite audiences to experience this immersive one-man production, delving into the wit, charm, and complexity of one of literature’s most iconic figures, right here in the heart of Reading.” 

Reading Museum’s Oscar Wilde tour on 25 May is a walk and talk from Reading Museum to Reading Prison led by one of the Museum’s expert volunteer tour guides to discover the amazing life and talent of this beloved author and his links with Reading. Find out about Wilde’s origins in Ireland, to his successful career in London, his extravagant life as part of Victorian rich and fashionable society and the devastating experience of imprisonment and exile.

To book – https://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/whats-on/oscar-wilde-tour 

¹Wilde was imprisoned on 25 May 1895 and later that year would begin his 18 month-stay in Reading Gaol. The poet and playwright had been found guilty of ‘acts of gross indecency with another male person’ and sentenced to two years with hard labour. In November 1895 he was moved to Reading Gaol where he became prisoner C.3.3 – the occupant of the third cell on the third floor of C wing. He was released on 18 May 1897. He died a few years later in 1900.  

Alex Brannen of REDA said: “As we approach the anniversary of Oscar Wilde’s release from Reading Gaol this Saturday, it is very timely that Reading is marking Wilde’s links with the town and remembering both his genius and the terrible period he spent incarcerated in Reading Prison.”