Home » Reviews » Off West End » Dorian Gray, CLF Arts Café – Review

Dorian Gray, CLF Arts Café – Review

Oscar Wilde
Adapted by Poise Performance
★★★

Pros: It looked great. Used dance and movement in a visually arresting way along with projections, music and art.

Cons: Casting a woman as Henry Wotton fundamentally changed the nature of the story and the acting wasn’t up to scratch.

Our Verdict: This is a new company with a solid foundation that, with careful development, will be one to watch.

Courtesy of Poise Performance

Taking place in CLF Café/Bussey Building in the middle of trendy Peckham Rye, this show lives up to the hype of the neighbourhood. This is the debut show by Poise Performance, who aim to reinvent classic tales using a multi-disciplinary approach. For a first production, this new company did an excellent job with a strong concept, though they could do with working on the standard of acting and looking at their casting choices. The production suited the ethos of the space incredibly well and it was a visual feast with a promenade approach.

When the audience entered the performance space, there were works of modern art hung from the ceiling and projections of flowers and gardens on one wall. In a large frame stood a young man I correctly assumed was the title character. Rather than a traditional theatre, it was a large room with a few chairs that were obviously part of the set. We were told by the usher that the actors would move us as needed, which they did, though never for any great distance. Shifting our focus from one part of the room to another would have been a more accurate description. To start, the remaining two actors took down the artwork and began the performance with Dorian Gray still in the picture frame.

What immediately baffled me was why a woman (Jennifer Essex), and with a North American accent at that, was cast as Lord Henry Wotton, a principle male role who is very English. Though her dance and movement work was extraordinary, her obviously female presence undermined the significant homosexual themes of the novel. Her acting was passable but lacking in depth. She played a stereotype of a dandy without capturing the humanity of Wotton, but her rendering of Sybil Vane was filled with innocence and light. Tom Medcalf (Dorian Gray) took a similar approach to his character. Of the three performers, only Matthew Crouzieres (Basil and other roles) demonstrated his versatility and capability to play characters with emotional depth.

The movement sequences and choreography were the strongest features of the production and some of the most creative I have ever seen. In the first major transition, Essex beautifully travelled along London’s streets projected on a blank wall, both on her feet and inverted. The best of the physical sequences was with Essex as Sybil Vane working in a bar with Crouzieres playing various punters. The use of the counter-top and pillars in the space gave the performance a truly site-specific feel and the fight choreography was of a high standard.

One of the other more interesting features was the portrait itself. Other than the opening where Medcalf as Dorian Gray stood in the frame, it was completely empty, with a white wall behind it. Though often covered with a sheet, when it was dramatically revealed for the final scene where Dorian destroys the picture and thus himself, we had to imagine the horror before us. Initially I wanted a projection, actor, object or the like to depict this ghastly sight, but I then decided it provoked the audience to engage more deeply in the performance by having to create the image in one’s mind.

Using a heavy dose of physical theatre in a wonderful new space, the production immerses the audience in the world of these characters and a classic story in a very watchable way, despite the production shortcomings. Poise Performance are certainly one to keep an eye on as they grow and this is a great start for an emerging company using an inventive performance style.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Dorian Gray runs at CLF Art Café/Bussey Building until 26 October 2013.
Buy tickets in advance at http://doriangray.brownpapertickets.com/

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Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.
  • @Camillarts

    I really loved this show. I wouldn’t disagree with any of the above comments, although for me it was a very high 3 stars. It was drenched with imagination in the way the company interpreted the space, characters and emotional transition which meant that you never knew what little gem was about to be displayed. It wasn’t daunting though. As an audience ‘allowed’ to stand wherever one wants, it can feel a bit terrifying, but the way the company gave permission about where to stand, ushered us in to new spaces and created their own space to act in before doing so (handily moving us out the way, was highly skilled).

    I loved the way that at times, I was a foot away from the actors, yet they were totally in their own world. The bar scene was indeed simply awesome, please post to youtube!