Following the beautiful Dorian Gray this famous tale of vanity and Victorian “morals” is turned on its head when we have a buffet like selection of choice. With 4 alternative versions, the four actors change roles daily in various configurations in an imaginative gender-bending take on the story. Tonight I had a gloriously complex portrayal of Dorian from Helen Reuben, providing all the joys and contrast of a female protagonist, and equally as fascinating was Augustina Seymour’s Sybil Vane. This keeping of the homosexual undertone within the play as a whole is so important giving its linked history to Wilde’s troubled personal life. The book itself was used against Wilde in his public trial for gross indecency and remains rightly part of queer culture. Stanton Wright provides an endearing Basil and Richards Keighley’s Henry Wotton is filled with the wit and acid that is so important for the role. It’s a clever idea and theoretically I would love to revisit three more times to see all the possible inflexions of the piece. So yes the concept is sound, but the problems dwell deeper within the production.
Lucy Shaw’s interpretation of the book, although technically clever, informed and, at certain points, beautiful gets stuck in a self-created quagmire of its own pretensions. The dialogue is effective, and the use of Wilde’s famous epigrams are fitting and relevant but the background narration by the “chorus” of the uninvolved actors distracts from any possible emotional or personal connection. This style of listed description and jumpy word association is an attempt at an experimental deconstruction of the themes of the book and whilst admirable, ultimately feels unnecessary. Heavy use of echoing voices makes this attempt at deepness actually lessen the effective performances and clever choices of the rest of the play.
Yet many of the choices speak very well for themselves, the acting is of a high calibre, Emily Stuart’s costumes are lavish without being impractical. Clever lighting choices by William Reynolds further helps the production achieve a level of stylishness whish is all very impressive considering the limited space available on the Jermyn Street Theatre Stage. The engrossing choice of having the trouble causing portrait as a lightbox filled with water only visible through a large floating gilded mirror (although not working completely) was an artistic flair that is to be heavily commended. No, the play overall builds a castle of talent and style, yet the writing of a piece must be the bedrock of any theatrical endeavour and this castle is regrettably built on sand.
Written by: Oscar Wilde/ Lucy Shaw
Directed by: Tom Littler
Produced by: Jermyn Street Theatre, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Creation Theatre
Box office: 020 7287 2875
Booking link: https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/pictures-of-dorian-gray/
Playing until: 6 July 2019