Pros: There are some sharp one-liners which send audience members into fits of laughter.
Cons: I felt that sometimes I was looking at a portrait of a painting rather than being invited into the painting.
Hands up who doesn’t know the story of Dorian Gray. Shame, shame, shame! Where have you been for the past 125 years? To put it succinctly, it is the story of a beautiful young man who makes a Faustian pact with a painted portrait of himself that he will remain forever young while the picture ages. By allowing his portrait to age on his behalf, Wilde’s anti-hero Gray can partake in the sins and pleasures of the flesh. And this he does with aplomb. It is Oscar Wilde’s only novel and is also a searing indictment of the corruption of a life of selfish luxury.
Like many things Oscar Wilde put his name to, this novel scandalised Victorian society and offended public morals. What is more shocking however is how relevant this work still is. With every adaptation, be it film, theatre or otherwise, I am always drawn to new themes and undercurrents. It seems director Peter Craze has chosen to really flesh out the gay element of the play, well in Act 1 at least. For those not familiar with Wilde’s life story, the two main male characters in this story have a lot in common with two men in Wilde’s life: Robbie Ross being Basil Hallward and Bosie Douglas being the character of Dorian Gray.
Whilst all the actors perform with complete talent and conviction, it can be hard for an audience to sit through this famous work of gothic fiction. The opening scenes of the play aim for high realism but then other scenes descend into an overt melodrama, which don’t always compliment each other. However, I’ve always found that this is the trouble with a lot of adaptations of this work. The story starts as a work of Victorian realism, descends into melodrama and then into a supernatural thriller. Such a combination can make for uncomfortable viewing for modern audiences.
The doubling of characters in this production (particularly male actors playing older female parts) adds a lovely comic element. However, at these points the play becomes a little light-hearted, which is hard to shake off during the more serious scenes. This makes the production feel a bit disjointed, a shame considering the obvious talent on display.
Helen Keeley is charming as Dorian’s would-be wife Sybil Vane. Guy Warren-Thomas’ performance as Dorian is in general captivating. The dialogue is probably the strongest element of the show. There are some sharp one-liners, which send a few audience members into fits of laughter. It is interesting to note that the playwrights include Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland along with John O’Connor.
Duncan Hands’ lighting design creates a ghostly atmosphere, particularly when Dorian stares out at the audience from his portrait. Dora Schweitzer’s set design is highly suggestive of the play’s time and place without being too illustrative. However, I found that some scene changes dragged on a bit too long, hindering my suspension of disbelief.
The production succeeds in combining a world of drawing room comedy and Gothic horror. Although I felt that sometimes I was looking at a portrait of a painting rather than being invited into the painting. The audience want to be invited in Wilde’s decadent world of sin, not admire it from the sidelines.
Anyway that’s just me. What do I know? If I were you I would book a ticket. Dorian’s story can teach us all a thing or two about the cult of youth.
Director: Peter Craze
Author: Merlin Holland and John O’Connor
Producer: St James Studio
Booking Until: 20 June 2015
Box Office: 084426421404 2140
Booking Link: http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/book-tickets/?event=24931