Despite being an avid reader, I have to admit I’ve never read Oscar Wilde’s only novel – The Picture of Dorian Grey. But, of course, it’s one of those novels that has seeped into so many cultural references and adaptations that I had a general idea of the plot. What surprised me on further research after Dorian: A Rock Musical finished, was that the homoerotic themes in this adaptation were suggested in the original novel of 1890. I had wondered if this was the modern twist on a Victorian novel, but in fact, the novel itself was used against Wilde in court when charged with “gross indecency with men”. I do like a show that prompts me to want to research and it’s encouraged me to add this classic to my ever-expanding summer reading pile.
Theatres may have mostly re-opened now, but as I’m recovering from Covid having caught up with me, I was pleased that there are still online productions on offer. This adaption of Wilde’s novel is portrayed as a rock musical, it’s literally called Dorian: A Rock Musical. But don’t expect hardcore rock to seep out of your speakers. I really enjoyed most of the music, but some felt more like a Bossa Nova than a rock anthem. The best musical moments featured gothic and haunting melodies performed by Dorian, played by Bart Lambert. His performance is entrancing, capturing the tortured and troubled Dorian perfectly.
All the cast are incredible, I’m sure they could hold a live theatre audience in the palm of their hands. Lambert’s Dorian and John Addison‘s Lord Henry are particularly impressive, both performances fizzle with chemistry. Fia Houston-Hamilton, playing Sybil Vane, has an incredible voice that I could happily have heard much more of, while Johanna Stanton, playing Lady Henry, puts so much emotion into her performances it is goosebump inducing. She’s also very funny, if a little distracting, playing a drunk Lady Henry in a club scene towards the end, cocktails flying all over the place.
On seeing that the running time of the play is over 90 minutes, I did wonder if it would capture my attention for the entire time. It can be more difficult to engage with theatre when it’s online, but the quality of the production is so high that the show is enthralling. There’s just the occasional camera wobble and sound imbalance to remind you it’s a streamed performance. The sets add to the quality, each space seems considered, adding to the brooding atmosphere of the whole play. It is also refreshing to see an online production make the most of the filmic techniques that can be employed, especially flashbacks.
As I haven’t read the novel, I can’t judge Dorian: A Rock Musical based on its quality as an adaptation, but perhaps it’s a good thing to watch with no pre-conceptions. I found the story interesting and will be intrigued to read the novel and reflect on the modern twists that this show injected into a classic. Regardless of the source material, it’s a brilliant show with some stunning performances and an ending that had me on the edge of my seat.
Written and Directed by: Linnie Reedman
Music and Lyrics by: Joe Evans
Produced by: Joe Evans
Musical Director: Sophie Jugé
Dorian: A Rock Musical is available to stream until 12 August. Further details and booking via the below link.