The Argus: Brighton Festival ThumbAbove a Chinese takeaway in Queen’s Road, a few paces down from Brighton Station, is the old Albion hotel. To most people it’s an innocuous, unmemorable site.

To Oscar Wilde fans, however, the spot is better known as the place where the writer took one of the boys who contributed to his time in Reading Jail.

Wilde picked up Alfonso Conway on Worthing Pier in 1894, brought him back to Brighton and the two spent the night together in the shabby establishment. Six months later Conway gave evidence against Wilde in court.

When Brighton-based playwright Neil Bartlett was asked by Brighton Festival director Andrew Comben to make something for this year’s festival, it was finding out where the hotel was that sparked his imagination.

“There is something about going past the front door of the building and thinking that’s the same door Oscar Wilde walked through with this boy,” he says.

“It stops it being a bit of history from a book and it becomes something on your doorstep.”

After the trigger was pulled, the next question he asked himself was how could he bring that home?

“He was right here in our home town, so I thought the best way was to use his words. I hit on the idea of a dramatic reading of one of his short stories.”

Wilde wrote The Remarkable Rocket for his son, Cyril. It is relatively unknown, usually hidden away in the back of Wilde’s collected editions.

In For Alfonso: A Wilde Evening At The Royal, Bartlett imagines what would happen if Oscar Wilde was telling the story to Alfonso Conway rather than his son.

The dramatic reading mixes Wilde’s short story and the true story of Wilde’s time in Brighton.

“The Remarkable Rocket is about a rocket rising up into the sky, exploding and then being extinguished – well that’s Oscar Widle’s story,” Bartlett says.

“He was the brightest star in the West End. He rose to the sky with an enormous explosion and six months later he was locked up in Reading Jail and the rocket went out. It is a way of reflecting on his story using his own words.”

He says the brief piece, performed later than usual (the curtain doesn’t go up until 9.45pm), is a show to round off an evening. Yet there is a strong cast. So strong, in fact, that the show is a one-off performance.

“It’s a bunch of performers I could only ever get together for one night, and because the body of this text is The Remarkable Rocket, I want to make it a bit like a firework display: it’s a little cracker and it’s just going to go off once – especially for the festival.”

He wrote the piece for the founder of drag theatre group Bloolips, Bette Bourne, who he has been working with for more than 20 years.

Also on stage will be Edmund Wiseman, fresh out of RADA and just back from Broadway with Cheek By Jowl; Maggie Steed, from BBC’s Jam & Jerusalem and Lark Rise To Candleford, and Guy Henry, best known for his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and in Holby City.

The real star of the show will be Wilde, though, whose humour abounds in The Remarkable Rocket.

“It is a celebration of the man,” says Bartlett. “Wit was his weapon against the world and you hear that in this story as you hear it in every story he wrote.”

* 9.45pm, tickets £5-£15, call 01273 709709.