Monday, 15 June 2015

Theatre review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray is the one story Oscar Wilde chose to tell in novel rather than play form, but this is something others have been trying to change ever since - so far I've seen adaptations including a musical and a ballet. The latest to bring it to the stage is professional Wilde descendant Merlin Holland, who adapts it with John O’Connor. Dorian Gray (Guy Warren-Thomas) is a rich and handsome young man who's caught the attention of London's aesthetes, and enthusiastically become one of them. Lord Henry (Gwynfor Jones) tells him that his youth and beauty are his defining qualities, and this leads Dorian to fixate on his fear of losing them. He makes a wish that he would sell his soul if the portrait just painted of him by Basil (Rupert Mason) aged while he got to keep his looks. When it comes true, he embarks on a life of debauchery seemingly without consequences.

Although not quite as moribund as the inexplicably well-received musical version, Peter Craze's production doesn't really work. An unsurprisingly straightforward page-to-stage adaptation, it never really picks up much steam or identity.

With Helen Keeley as Sybil Vane the only woman in the cast, Jones and Mason are sometimes required to drag up as various elderly duchesses, giving the piece a vaudeville comedy feel that Craze can't reconcile with the darker elements. But what the production does bring out is that this isn't a story about ageing but a morality tale: Wilde imagines that a man's face is a map of how he's behaved in life, and Warren-Thomas' Dorian is girlishly sweet until the story's magical twist. It's only when he doesn't have to face the consequences in the mirror that he turns monster. But maybe it's time people took the hint - if one of the most popular playwrights of all time didn't think this was a play, maybe it isn't.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, adapted by Merlin Holland and John O'Connor, is booking until the 20th of June at the St James Theatre Studio.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.

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