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Immersive Picture of Dorian Gray at The Crypt in Bethnal Green

We’re in the crypt of a church, for the unveiling of a portrait… or is it a bar, or is it a theatre? There’s an excellent use of space in Midnight Circle Theatre Company’s production, and the painting, of course, is of one Dorian Gray, so we know we’re in for an inventive ride.

This is an immersive production, so we can wander freely between rooms, which become an artist’s studio, a lord’s dining room, a lady’s boudoir and an actress’s, and her theatre. I choose to follow Dorian (an obvious choice) as the story forks and certain other characters melt into the background. The show has a certain rhythm to it, a bell alerting us to performances in the theatre, which at critical moments bring most of the cast together, providing inflection points.

Immersive Picture of Dorian Gray.
Immersive Picture of Dorian Gray.

There are moments when audience members are involved in a low-key way. This is often a key question for immersive productions: are audience members passive observers, albeit with the freedom to decide what to watch, or involved in choices that will affect the course of the plot? Here, there are hints that the actions of the viewers can have an impact, but if they do, I am unaware of it. I can’t decide if that’s the worst of both worlds, or the best.

There are other difficulties that I have with fully throwing myself into this world. We are alerted at the start that something odd is happening with time, down in this cellar, but as the years speed by as quickly as it takes to walk from one room to the next, there is little indication of this. If you pay fast attention to the dialogue you may catch it, but speech is an element of an immersive play that cannot command the same focus as a traditional, proscenium arch script. Given that the rooms are not always in use or accessible, I’d love to see some subtle updates to the sets as the decades pass – as well as in the acting and costumes.

Immersive theatre’s greatest strength is in its intimacy, and the ambivalent voyeurism that it emphasises, so for a story of debauchery, sexual awakening, and raising hell, I’d like to see a good deal more energy. Instead, it comes across as a little chaste.

All that said, there’s much to admire in the ambition of this production. The choice of paths works well, rather than feeling tacked on. Nicholas Benjamin’s direction doesn’t jump on a bandwagon, but gives real thought about how to use the immersive medium. Ultimately, it offers frozen-in-time glimpses of what this company can do, and they’re worth following. Next time I’d like to see more full-motion action, with the characters – and their all-important choices – truly imbued with life.

3 Star Review

Review by Ben Ross

Midnight Circle Theatre Company, newly formed with two of the producers from Immersive Dracula, are bringing an immersive theatre adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray to the Crypt venue in Bethnal Green in April 2023. Director, Nicholas Benjamin will lead a devised adaptation of the gothic novel bringing the audience into the world of an underground club with secrets behind every door.

Listing Information:
Immersive Picture of Dorian Gray
The Crypt, St. Peter’s Bethnal Green, St Peter’s Cl, London E2 7AE
(The Crypt is not wheelchair accessible)
Press Night: 18th April 2023
Performances: 19th April – 29th April 2023

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