The Picture of Dorian Gray

Wed 19th – Sat 22nd October 2011

reviews

Cassie Barraclough

at 09:47 on 20th Oct 2011

2agrees

1disagrees

Oscar Wilde, as we all know, is a renowned playwright, and 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' is the best known of his novel works. It is in the transition from page to stage that the production found some difficulty. Dawkins and Taylor have chosen to use a chorus as a narrative device, and for this reason the production at points feels a little slow-moving and static; almost as if we are being read the novel, rather than seeing a new theatrical spectacle inspired by the book.

The use of a masked, uniform chorus was a bold choice, and had its strengths and weaknesses. At the start of the play, the silent ensemble sitting above the action produced palpable threat, and the opening of the second act was dynamic and charged. At other points, however, the chorus was much less successful. Moments including attempting to give the impression of a cab moving at speed, unnecessary choreography added to scene changes, and particularly having one actor (albeit with gusto) impersonating a stag to gallop off stage detracted from the momentum of the show, and destroyed the atmosphere. Perhaps if the group had been trained dancers these moments would have been more successful. Equally, it was a little sad that the play did not go further in its depictions of Gray’s descent into sin; the scenes depicting orgiastic depravity were played a little safe.

It must, however, be said that the chorus gave uniformly strong performances, particularly in their individual roles; Jeremy Neumark Jones as James Vane was particularly impressive, as was Mike Gale’s Alan Campbell. This high standard of acting continued in the principal cast. Ziad Samaha, as the mirror, was outstanding: not only did he stand so remarkably still for such a long amount of time, his ‘letter’ speech was the highlight of the entire production, and his gentle, seductive yet thoroughly unnerving demeanour was perfectly judged. Jordan Waller as Henry Wotton was the clear audience favourite, winning us over almost immediately with his affable, louche charm, and giving an entertaining and believable performance throughout. Jamie MacDonagh as the title role did a stellar job with a particularly difficult part. His journey from straight-backed innocent youth to corrupt man was well traced, and, strangely, he definitely seemed to get more attractive as the production went on.

The production, overall, was slick, with an impressive set and well used live music throughout, and some particularly assured performances. Co-directors and adaptors Lucinda Dawkins and Adam Scott Taylor must be commended on a largely successful adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s popular classic, and a packed first night suggests that should you want to see this production, you ought to book your ticket soon.

agree
disagree

Karl Dando

at 12:41 on 20th Oct 2011

1agrees

1disagrees

It's an irony of Wilde's book, despite its turning on a Picture, that the thing is so completely a literary work: its complexities and triumphs are in and of language. Adaptation to the stage then demands particular vigilance, and to this production's credit the project of translation is heartily embraced, and there has been a clear attempt to create something worthwhile as a piece of theatre. The transition isn't flawless, and something is certainly lost, though where The Picture of Dorian Gray does falter it does so largely in this, rather than any particular lack of talent or ambition in the cast or crew.

Jamie MacDonagh plays Dorian with a petulance reminiscent of Jude Law's Bosie in Wilde, whilst Ziad Samaha, cast as The Picture itself, and serving as a kind of narrator at various points, barks out lines with daemonic relish. The very obvious contrast in qualities of the two Dorians' voices is something of a coup for the production, though the treatment of The Picture isn't always successful – its disfigurement really could've gone a lot further, been more, and more obviously, grotesque, and the reveal of its warped form to Basil is rather undermined by Samaha having narrated in full view the opening of the second Act mere moments before. Jordan Waller seems entirely at home on a chaise-longue, and though his Lord Henry occassionally edged too close to camp caricature there was always charisma in it. Henry Faber's Basil seemed something of a damp squib against the more compelling figures, though it is rather written into the character that he be little more than a flatcap on legs, it was the unfortunate youthfulness of Faber that robbed Basil of some potential tragic tinge as the sad old onanist he originally appears in Wilde's book.

One of this production's most obviously theatrical aspects is the inclusion of a Greek chorus, each member of whom doubles-up as various minor characters when needed. Their presence is suitably atmospheric, and though slightly jarring on first appearance, backing The Picture as he speaks Wilde's Preface to metallic stabs of violin, they are generally well utilised, particularly as the faceless (they all wear masks) throngs of the chattering classes. Though there are moments where they'd have been better dispensed with, and their echoing/ventriloquising various characters can occasionally be intrusive, and dilute the potency of certain lines.

The main problem, perversely, comes in a quite inspired stroke of structuring: Dorian's descent into sin, communicated in rumour and hearsay in the novel, is made to take place during the interval, neatly sidestepping the difficulty of unrepresentability that is so much the point. It seems the best way to handle things, theoretically, but it has the unfortunate effect of quite hollowing out the experience, so when we as the audience return for the second Act and are suddenly dealing with a Dorian apparently much debased, and there seems an unfortunate limpness to it – Wilde could communicate better a passing of time without specifying event; theatre undercuts that possibility, we are too aware of ourselves. The distinction of those supposed years passing might be better achieved had not read extracts from the book (in reverse chronology) interjected the action from the start, lending a strange air of futility to proceedings. Clearly Cut-Out Star Productions have thought hard about what they were doing with Dorian Gray, and the end result is enjoyable, though somewhat unsatisfying.

agree
disagree

Comments

Xandra Burns; 21st Oct 2011; 23:20:43

Cassie Barraclough identifies the problem of this production of "Dorian Gray" precisely: it's "as if we are being read the novel." I felt as if I was watching an audiobook rather than a play, and at times I found myself listening to the language (although actively, rather than being drawn in by the actors' deliveries at many points) rather than watching the scenes. I have to disagree about Cassie's comment on an "impressive" set - while neat and tidy, it was ultimately plain and uninspiring, overshadowed by the vast space of the Playhouse. The costumes, however, were just right - elegant black chorus dresses in particular.

The chorus was joltingly inconsistent - at times their movements and synchronization were fluid and insightful, but at others they seemed awkward and out of place. When the chorus recited lines in unison they resembled a painful chapel congregation. Ironically the most successful moment was their depiction of a bored audience watching a dull play (and not just because I could empathize with them).

Karl Dando also points out a key issue - the difficulty of adapting the novel to the stage. I'm always weary of these projects; Wilde did choose to write a novel rather than a play. I agree also with Karl's mention of Lord Henry's occasional slip into "camp caricature" - these random bursts of humor extend to other characters and moments (such as the speeding cab), and while enjoyable, do interrupt the pace of the play.

I did enjoy many of the ideas presented by the text about the nature of art, and if anything, the play has encouraged me to read the novel, although it's a shame that the reading experience probably won't be accompanied by the well-incorporated orchestral soundtrack used in this production.

Audience Avg.

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