Review: Pictures of Dorian Gray

4 star rating
Rotating gender roles feature in this polished and aptly atmospheric adaptation of Oscar Wilde's inventive and provocative story, though the crucial 'portrait' is rather ill-defined.
Augustina Seymour (Sibyl Vane), Stanton Wright (Dorian Gray), Richard Keightley (Henry Wotton) - Photo: S R Taylor Photography

Augustina Seymour (Sibyl Vane), Stanton Wright (Dorian Gray), Richard Keightley (Henry Wotton) - Photo: S R Taylor Photography



Closes here: Saturday 6 July 2019

Author:
Oscar Wilde, newly adapted by Lucy Shaw

Director:
Tom Littler

Cast:

Richard Keightley

Helen Reuben

Augustina Seymour

Stanton Wright


Synopsis


In Oscar Wilde's iconic novel, sophisticated, amoral aristocrat Henry Wotton seduces the beautiful Dorian Gray into a life of sin and hedonism in fin-de-siècle London.


Dorian sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty - and only his portrait seems to age.


But will Dorian's pact have a price?


Lucy Shaw's bold and beautiful new adaptation retains all the glittering wit of Wilde's writing.


The cast switch roles, creating four different casting possibilities, performed on different nights.


A female Dorian looks at the portrait.


And a male face looks back at her.


Background


Lucy Shaw is a graduate of the Royal Court Young Writers' Programme and the Studio Group.


Her plays have been performed at the Whitechapel Gallery, Bold Tendencies, the Nursery Theatre and RADA.


Tom Littler is Artistic Director of Jermyn Street Theatre.


Note: there will be multiple press performances:


Press performance A - Male Dorian with male Wotton - Monday 10 June 7.30pm

Press performance B - Male Dorian with female Wotton  - Tuesday 11 June 3.30pm

Press performance C - Female Dorian with male Wotton - Tuesday 11 June 7.30pm

Press performance D - Female Dorian with female Wotton - Wednesday 12 June 7.30pm


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Monday 10 June 2019
Review star rating image

A significant feature of this adaptation of Oscar Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (first published in 1890), is that you can choose to see it with characters played in four different gender combinations.


Four actors rotate the main roles of Dorian Gray, Henry Wotton and artist Basil Hallward as well as the other minor characters that we encounter along the way in this well-known story.


On the press night which I attended, Stanton Wright was in the lead as Dorian Gray with Helen Rueben as Basil Hallward, Richard Keightley as Henry Wotton and Augustina Seymour as Sybil Vane.


My choice was made merely as a matter of scheduling to fit with other engagements and, sadly, I couldn't make another press night with a different gender combination.


So I can't comment about any interesting variations that might exist between the various casting options on offer - though it might be worth checking if other reviewers are able to fit in more than one viewing.


Wilde's inventive and provocative story focuses on a young man by the name of Dorian Gray whose exceptional 'beauty' is encapsulated in a portrait by artist Basil Hallward.


Egged-on by the sybaritic Lord Henry Wotton, Gray latches on to his mentor's notion that beauty is all that matters in life and wishes that his portrait would age rather than him.


However, there's more to this story than that because, as time progresses, Gray turns into something considerably nastier than a man simply desperate to prolong his good looks and avoid the ageing process.


Tom Littler's production is, aptly, a rather dark affair with gloomy walls, and black costumes that sport only a hint of gold embroidery, perhaps to signify the standing of the independently wealthy with time on their hands to focus on the pursuit of pleasure.


And an equally sombre, well-designed and highly complex soundscape underscores almost the entire piece, with overhead microphones providing some echoey and suitably eerie atmos for much of the narration.


But the all-important portrait is not only given a non-realistic description but is relegated to a relatively subordinate position on the stage.


It is actually in evidence (and cleverly obscured when necessary) but from my vantage point was only just visible.


Of course, the progressive transformation of a portrait is no easy matter to effect without some expensive technological wizardry or multiple versions.


But the painting is, arguably, the most significant character in Wilde's story and I couldn't help feeling a little cheated with the description of it here, even allowing for obvious constraints in terms of budget and space, as well as the director's creative intent.


The cast obviously have their work cut-out in switching roles so frequently, but seemed entirely unfazed by the challenge, delivering well-honed and absorbing performances throughout.


And Tom Littler's production is certainly meticulously considered and polished, though there are moments when the semi-narrational interjections are unduly repetitive, and some of the carefully-timed movement appeared unnecessary embellishment.



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