The Picture of Dorian Gray – Trafalgar Studios Until 13th February

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Trafalgar Studios Until 13th February

★★★

Review by Liz Dyer

 

When The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published in 1890 by Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, it caused a great scandal, despite already having been heavily censored by the magazine’s editor. Later, when adapting the story to be published as a book, Oscar Wilde himself removed further material, in particular some of the more homoerotic passages.

The latest version of Dorian Gray, written by John O’Connor and Oscar Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland, reinstates some of this unseen content, as a reflection of the author’s original intentions. The only difference is that the revelations in question aren’t actually very shocking to a 21st century audience, so rather than being a dramatic twist in the tale, they become simply an interesting new way of viewing the familiar and fascinating story.

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PRODUCTION IMAGES (courtesy Emily Hyland)

A young man gazes at a portrait of himself – painted by an artist who secretly adores him – and wishes that the picture could age instead of him, offering his soul for the chance to remain beautiful forever. And so begins Dorian Gray’s descent into a life of debauchery and hedonism, with only the painting, locked away in the attic, revealing the true ugliness of his soul while his face remains that of an innocent and handsome youth.

Guy Warren-Thomas skilfully handles Dorian’s transition from gentle and naive to selfish and hard-hearted – a man who clearly has a conscience, but just doesn’t allow it to trouble him very often. John Gorick as Lord Henry, in contrast, appears to have no conscience at all; so laid back he’s practically horizontal, he delivers many of the play’s wittiest lines with a consistently sardonic drawl. Rupert Mason gives a heartfelt performance as the artist Basil Hallward, who touchingly confesses his unrequited love for his young friend, and later tries to save him from his dark path, and Helen Keeley is innocent and likeable as Dorian’s doomed love interest, the teenage actress Sybil Vane.

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PRODUCTION IMAGES (courtesy Emily Hyland)

So it seems strange, with each of the actors playing such a significant role in Peter Craze’s production, that they should also be called on to fill all the other parts too. I’m not arguing about the actors’ skill; each character is distinguishable by accent, appearance or mannerisms, so there’s no confusion. But with Rupert Mason playing no less than seven parts, and Helen Keeley six, it does occasionally feel a bit chaotic, and the more comic roles in particular begin to detract from the cast’s strong central performances; it’s difficult to take the desperate Basil quite so seriously once you’ve seen him playing a flirtatious elderly lady.

Light and sound effects provided by Duncan Hands and Matt Eaton grow the tension as Dorian’s story grows increasingly sinister, and there are a couple of haunting moments involving the hideous portrait, which is represented by an empty frame, so our imaginations can do their worst. All the elements are there to make this a truly horrifying piece of theatre, and if it doesn’t quite get there, perhaps it’s just because the actual horror part of the story is very brief; after a lengthy buildup, we’re only just getting to know ‘bad Dorian’ when the story comes to an abrupt end.

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PRODUCTION IMAGES (courtesy Emily Hyland)

The Picture of Dorian Gray is an entertaining new take on a classic tale, with strong performances from its versatile cast. Perhaps at times it’s a little more concerned with reproducing the wit of Oscar Wilde’s words than with the dark heart of his story, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

★★★

Review by Liz Dyer

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