Pros: There are some good performances and the set is very effective.
Cons: While he might have been a genius playwright, John Osborne apparently wasn’t equally brilliant at writing adaptations.
Oscar Wilde: proliferate poet, playwright and the intellectual behind many pearls of wisdom such as ‘a true friend stabs you in the front’. His most popular work, however, is a one of a kind; in his lifetime Wilde only wrote one novel, and that is The Picture of Dorian Gray. The story, in turn, has been adapted for stage and screen many times, sometimes successfully and sometimes less so. Unfortunately this production by Second Squire falls in the latter category.
A quick reminder for everyone who can only vaguely recall reading the book in school: recently established painter Basil Hallward has found a new muse. The young man in question, Dorian Gray, has sat for a portrait and, confronted with his own beauty in the painting, wishes that the picture would age instead of he himself. Encouraged in his vanity by Basil’s hedonistic but cynical friend Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian embarks on a self-indulgent exploration of the pleasures of life without much care or consideration for others, such as Basil or his lover Sybil.
This play, based on the 1976 adaptation of the book by John Osborne, is around 90 minutes, but manages to feel both too short and too long at the same time. This is mainly due to its choppiness; Look Back in Anger might have changed British theatre, but this effort by Osborne will certainly not. Characters like Dorian’s friend Alan are thrown in without so much as a word of introduction, Dorian’s 18 years in Paris are skipped over in a heartbeat and the final scene comes and goes with such abruptness it took me a while to register the play had actually finished. Other scenes, on the other hand, are simply too long; particularly in the second half the narrative grinds to a halt as Dorian and Lord Henry reflect at length on their Bullingdon Club-esque views on life. Which, unsurprisingly, gets rather tiring after a while, especially since we get so much of it on TV and in our political system already.
The quality of the acting is uneven too. Harry Burton is excellent as the arrogant and witty Lord Henry, while John MacCormick confidently veers between excitable and sulky as Basil. Hugh John appears less at ease as Dorian: his character development is mostly confined to the text, as he seems to be in full ‘dead behind the eyes’-mode from his first entry. It’s a fine portrayal of Dorian after years of vicious depravity, but without seeing the pure, uncorrupted version of the character first, the performance loses a lot of its power.
The set, designed by Marcio Santarosa, is a great find: the back wall is covered in various wallpapers, here and there ornamented with pieces of heavy, ornate picture frames. All the while the titular picture, facing away from the audience and covered with a purple cloth, is a magnetic but ominous presence in the room. If you had told me a few days ago that the back of a canvas could have such stage presence I’d not have believed you, but there you go.
It can’t, however, make up for the lack of anticipation the rest of the play induces; Wilde’s work has been described with many an adjective over time, but ‘lacklustre’ is not a description that pops up often. Unfortunately this production just doesn’t do justice to its source.
Author: Oscar Wilde
Adaptation: John Osborne
Director: George Bancroft-Livingstone
Producer: Second Squire Productions
Box Office: 020 7793 9193
Booking Link: http://whitebeartheatre.co.uk/event/details/dorian-grey-by-oscar-wilde/
Booking Until: 23 May 2015.