Ralph Fiennes to perform Oscar Wilde work at Reading Prison to celebrate former inmate


The prison that incarcerated Oscar Wilde will open to the public for the first time for an art project celebrating his life.

Actors Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Maxine Peake and singer Patti Smith will be among those who will perform readings of Wilde's work in the chapel at Reading Prison.

Reading Prison
(Morley von Sternberg)

Wilde was a prisoner there between 1895 and 1897 and wrote his work De Profundis, an extended love letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, in his prison cell after he was sentenced to two years' hard labour for gross indecency for the affair.

After his release he composed The Ballad Of Reading Gaol.

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred
Oscar Wilde with Lord Alfred (National Portrait Gallery)

The project, entitled Inside - Artists and Writers in Reading Prison, will run from September 4 to October 30 and will include new works from artists including Marlene Dumas, Nan Goldin and Steve McQueen, which will be installed in the Victorian prison's corridors, wings and cells.

Every Sunday for two months writers and performers will read De Profundis in its entirety, while some including Ai Weiwei, Tahmima Anam and Jeanette Winterson will compose letters from their own direct or imagined experience of a state-imposed separation from loved ones.

Visitors will be able to listen to and read their letters in some of the cells of the prison and BBC Radio 4 will broadcast five of the contemporary letters from the project from September 12 to 16 at 7.45pm, followed by an abridged reading of De Profundis on September 11 at 4pm, recorded in Wilde's cell at the prison.

James Lingwood and Michael Morris, co-directors of organisers Artangel, said: "We are excited to be opening up Reading Prison with such a remarkable range of artists, writers and performers responding to the imposing Victorian architecture and the continuing resonance of De Profundis, written by Wilde in his cell as Prisoner C.3.3.

Reading Prison
Reading Prison (Morley Von Sternberg)

"Inside - Artists and Writers in Reading Prison will offer the public an opportunity to reflect, in a particularly powerful place, on the implications for the individual when separated from society by the state.

"It's also a great opportunity for Artangel to work with key cultural partners on the first phase of Reading International, a new three-year arts initiative led by the University of Reading."