The flamboyancy and flair of Oscar Wilde comes through authoritatively in this production of The Picture of Dorian Gray, a fascinating and multi-layered story. The ‘problem’ with a stage show of such a seminal work of literature is that it’s difficult to match it, such is the original’s exquisite quality. I think, for example, of an adaptation of ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ I attended in 2012. In short, I was very bored very quickly, and would have requested a refund in the interval had the box office still been open. It just didn’t come close to matching the writing of CS Lewis.
Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is, according to a note in the programme, “on the A-level English curriculum”, though interestingly, I note there isn’t such a thing as ‘the’ curriculum, as there are several.
But I digress. This play succeeds because it isn’t so much an ‘adaptation of’, but rather a ‘stage version of’. I must qualify this – if you drill down far enough, you can find differences. Sibyl Vane (Helen Keeley) featured more heavily than I had expected, and with some of the cast playing multiple roles, some negligible, if necessary, alterations have been made.
The overall faithfulness to Wilde’s text, however, may be seen in some quarters as an unwillingness to push boundaries, or even a lack of imagination. I prefer to think, at least in this instance, that this production is the result of paying due care and attention to such a well-known tale. It allows the audience to focus in on the performance itself, and to enjoy the production more than if major aspects of the narrative differed from the original.
I love the wit of Wilde, and a great many of his expressions find their way into the play’s dialogue, much to my delight. But even I must admit that on occasion it is unmistakably a tad too slow. Was it the clunky scene changes? I’m not entirely sure, but I would hazard a guess that it’s the elements of naturalistic dialogue interspersed with Victorian melodrama. Or was it the other way round? Either way the pair do not sit prettily side by side. The second half held my attention better than the first: things seemed to happen faster.
It’s never hard work, though, with many key elements of the book almost instantly recognisable as the play progresses. A confident and commanding cast with a suitably dapper Guy Warren-Thomas in the lead role perform effectively in this no-holds-barred production that our rather more liberal and accepting times, as opposed to Wilde’s own, allow.
And there’s something about the idolisation of youth that’s still very relevant, if not more so, today – I wonder what Oscar Wilde would have made of ‘selfies’? A largely intriguing picture, so to speak, that reminds us to take care what we ask for, lest we indeed receive, it’s a play to seriously consider seeing if you like a strongly philosophical show.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Set in the decadent world of Victorian London, a beautiful young man called Dorian Gray becomes infatuated by the exquisite portrait that Basil Hallward has painted of him. He makes a Faustian pact that he will remain forever young while the picture grows old. Combining drawing-room comedy and gothic horror, this is a gripping and hugely entertaining theatrical event.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Trafalgar Studio Two
14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY
Show Opened: 18th January 2016
Booking Until: 13th February 2016