Pros: A strong adaptation of Dorian Gray which remodels the tale with clear thought. Absolutely wonderful projection.
Cons: I sometimes felt like it lacked a little direction.
There is something to be said of the decision Brad Birch has made to turn the characters that occupy the pages of Oscar Wilde’s only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray into the too-cool-for-school hipsters that have taken over and gentrified the East End of London for Selfie. The comparison between the excessive and hedonistic Victorian society and these 21st century yuppies works rather well! The drug-taking, free-sex and liberal ideologies have more in common than you would initially think.
You probably know the original story; an artist paints a young man and introduces him to a debauched society. Through this society he becomes mean, twisted and self-indulgent but never seems to age. Locked away in an attic room his painting ages and fades. This classic story hasn’t been touched by Brad Birch despite the script being brand new and brought forward in time over 120 years.
It draws significantly on the mystic and magical aspects of Wilde’s book. This is something that, for me, is never confronted enough in the original. Dorian stays young, yes, but how and why has he changed from an innocent youth into a callous and spiteful man never much made sense. Selfie, however, resolves this issue simply through one line when Dorian explains her picture carries her grief and emotions. She is so cold-hearted because she cannot, and will not allow herself to, feel. Instead her portrait not only physically reminds her of her sins but holds her emotions too. Kate Kennedy dominates the stage the second her foot touches it. She plays a truly unlikeable Dorian with true style and has an impressive stage presence.
Jeremy Neumark Jones as the side character Jasper has a rather lovely scene towards the end, showing both his talent for comedy and tragedy, despite being rather invisible throughout. Stuart Wilde and Iqra Rizwan also step into their roles smoothly. In fact, there wasn’t a weak actor amongst the cast of 15 and with such strong characters to contend with, each performer tackled their part extremely well. There is no doubting that the 2014 cast of the National Youth Theatre are a talented bunch. However, it did feel as though some actors were under-used whilst others lacked direction. The creative team relied too much on the performer’s natural comic timing and improvisation which, whilst amusing, seemed out of place in an otherwise well-choreographed and rehearsed piece.
Scene changes were edgy and intelligent; the use of musicians and stylised movement was tight and provided entertainment in between the scenes. There was also fantastic use of different forms of projection which added a spooky dimension to the piece. An over-sized mirror, like something from Sleeping Beauty, had pin-point accurate projections of both Dorian’s face when used as a mirror and we saw her portrait, projected from her iPad, transform creepily before our eyes. A white backdrop was used to great success, representing numerous bars and a bleak tower block. It was a clever design by Verity Quinn and Simon Eves considering the space has the long-term show Stomp’s set fixed onto the stage. Unfortunately, the set otherwise felt a little bare, the props were scarce and without the projection it would have been impossible to tell which location we were at.
This show is a prime example of the fantastic work the National Youth Theatre does, putting talented, young actors onto a stage in the West End. It hold a high-quality production value and it is clear that a lot of love and attention has been given to this show. It is refreshing to see young people that still care for quality and for that reason alone Selfie deserves a full house every night.
Author: Brad Birch
Director: Paul Roseby
Box Office: O8448 112334
Booking Until: 12 November 2014