The Picture of Dorian Gray
Trafalgar Studios until Feb 13th 2016
Adapted by Merlin Holland and John O’Connor / Directed by Peter Craze
A production of Oscar Wilde’s story, co-adapted by his only grandchild from the original manuscript, of which the homoerotic undertones are much more clearly stated sounded intriguing enough to me. And while it is testament to Oscar Wilde’s writing that the story itself is still wickedly sinister, this play falls somewhat flat.
Studio 2 is a very intimate space and at times felt a bit crowded with all the numerous scene changes which made it all feel very much like “a play”; quite stagey and never fully allowing you to sink into its reality. But that’s okay. It’s all about suspension of disbelief and I don’t think that artifice is necessarily a negative but as time went on, it did begin to grate. Rupert Mason as Basil Hallward felt nuanced and recognizable; his depiction of a man obsessed with the work of art that is Dorian Gray (Guy Warren-Thomas). All four of the actors were compelling to watch, but using them to play various minor characters (some for only one tiny scene) was distracting and unsuccessful. My particular gripe around this was having two of the male actors play the older women characters. It lurched the play into a weird comedy as the audience laughed at a man with a five o’clock shadow playing an older blushing aunt remembering her youth. Unless you’re really trying to make some sort of statement or everyone is switched around (i.e women playing older men) I’ve had enough of this in plays. It’s bad enough that much theatre is male-centric anyway; don’t give the occasional female parts away to men too.
I found the first half very talky but with John Gorick as Lord Henry Wotten being super Wilde-esque with about a million biting quips, made the pace still bounce along pretty quickly. Dorian Gray changing from a golden youth to his degradation into decadence is subtly done; at interval we know how horrid the picture in the actic now must be and want to know what will happen next.
The answer? More of the same. The talking, which felt quippy and intelligent in the first half, meanders into indulgence in the second half. I also realized that there was no real dramatic impetus. Maybe this is because I knew how the story ends, but I don’t think that was quite it. It simply felt a bit “So What?” I think it really could have benefited from being a lot shorter. A snappier, more edited play might have lost some of the fun dialogue, but kill your darlings and all that. For me, it’s far better to be hungry at the end of a play, then bloated by words.
As a positive, the lighting design was effective and the music perfectly balanced the action on stage, however I really feel that this is one is best saved for the serious Oscar Wilde fans.
Booking link here.
© Sarah Browne 2016