Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales are emotionally violent and morally ambivalent, qualities that make them more delectable for adults than children (or so we choose to believe).

The latest production in the Down-stairs Theatre at Belvoir Street offers a staging of five stories intended for older toddlers (say, 18 years and older), a curious medley entitled Wilde Tales.

In the very least the production demonstrates how Wilde was decades ahead of his time. The stories twist like film noir, provoking gasps of sympathy and bitter laughter from an engrossed audience.

The cast are all strong, confident performers, although Benedict Hardie, Johnny Nasser (above) and Sean Lynch are standouts. In The Fisherman And His Soul, Hardie stages recollections of his experiences as a wandering Soul, which have all the infectious glee of a first-time world traveller. (This is also a smart example of mime used for good instead of evil.)

If the female cast members are less impressive, this may be attributed to the group’s creative decisions about character. If the stories were radically reworked to bring out the stories’ darker edges, then certain clich?should have been avoided.

Gwyneth Price (who was stunning in B-Sharp’s Loveplay) plays a mermaid with a predictably bland ethereal quality that robs her siren song of genuine romance. Similarly, Julia Davis plays a sorceress with all the depth of Witchy-Poo from H.R. Pufnstuf.

It’s a shame, although both David and Price shine in other tales, and Davis’s original songs beautifully lift the material.

Fans of Wilde should have a terrific time, while newcomers should consider it an entertaining Wilde primer, because all his primary themes are here: from a celebration of individuality to an attack on hypocrisy.

The stories are for everybody, or as Wilde suggested in 1888: for those who have kept the childlike faculties of wonder and joy, and who find in simplicity a subtle strangeness.

Wilde Tales is showing at the Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills, until 31 October. Phone 9699 3444.

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