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Review of The Picture of Dorian Gray at Bread and Roses Theatre

The Picture of Dorian GrayOscar Wilde would either be bemused or horrified (I personally think the former) at the idea that his 1891 novel has been adapted in such a way as to lose its homoeroticism so completely in this relentlessly dark play by John Foster, by taking two main characters, Lord Henry Wotton and Basil Hallward, and turning them into ladies, Henri and Basel.

I did not realise it at the time but this production did well to create a sense of foreboding even before the show started. Members of the audience were largely whispering to one another. It stood in stark contrast to the cheering and jeering in the pub downstairs as on the big screen, a British tennis player, Heather Watson, was slugging her guts out against Serena Williams at the Wimbledon Championships. The play is set in modern times, but a bit before 2015: there are mobile phone conversations, and photographs taken, but no selfies. By nature of the theatre layout – one door for all, cast and audience, to get in and out – the audience does not witness scene changes so much as costume changes. It’s one way, I suppose, of making it clear that we’ve left one time and place and are now in another.

Dorian (Alessandro Babalola), is a photographer, one of those freelancers who knows their way around town and races to the scenes of road traffic accidents and other scenes of death and destruction. There is Henri (Amelia Gardham), best described as a hedonist (though in the dying moments of the play, there is a sharp twist to this view). Both his work and his mistress – Dorian is married to Basel (Anna Newcome) – combine to drag him down the path where his morals, mostly derived from a Christian upbringing, are first questioned, then compromised, then recklessly abandoned. Like the original Wilde novel, Dorian ends up a murderer.

The litmus test for a production long enough to have an interval is how many stay the course, and audience numbers were noticeably down for the second half, allowing others to move to take seats with a more central sightline. But why was this? Firstly, the show is almost too successful in leading the audience into the world of Dorian Gray that we end up having little sympathy for any of the characters at all by the end. Everyone has their flaws, and in these modern times, help is available for those who seek it to deal with issues. It can be argued that if our characters failed to ask for assistance (or else resolved within themselves to improve), what predicaments or calamities they later face are mostly, if not entirely, events they have brought upon themselves. If Dorian makes a pact with the devil, that’s his business, and if he suffers for it, then that’s his fault for making a pact with the devil! Secondly, there is little humour in the play, not at all like Wilde’s original novel, laced with wit as it was. The play is therefore hard going. Even Les Miserables has the Thenardiers! Thirdly, some of the dialogue is frankly a tad too sluggish.

The show makes the audience consider their own conduct when faced with loss. “Everyone is on a journey,” muses Dorian. Further, it’s one thing to have soliloquies. It’s quite another to have questions directly asked of individual audience members eyeball to eyeball (the fourth wall was not breached, mind: please don’t think I had to engage with the cast with an improvised response as to “Why are you still here?”). My fellow theatregoer didn’t like it, but I thought it was better than being effectively ignored for the entire duration of a play, something all too common. These young actors do their best with what they’re given, and given much more, I think they’ll go places.

Three and a half gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng


A contemporary retelling of Oscar Wilde’s Faustian tale.
The beautiful Dory Gray, professional photographer of crime, war and celebrity, has made a pact with the Devil. A stunningly beautiful young man, Dorian Gray, has a photograph taken of himself by the woman he loves, Basel Hallward, locking his prepossessing good looks in the digital image for all time. Falling under the malign influence of the amoral Henri Wotton, Dorian is drawn into her hedonistic lifestyle and becomes her lover. Dorian strikes a Faustian pact with the Devil and acquires eternal youth. Immersing himself in a secret life of debauchery and crime, Dorian discovers a wantonly violent darkside to his personality. He gradually builds an international reputation as an award-winning news and celebrity photographer, covering such topics as famine, major disasters and crime, taking a particular interest in a serial murderer known as ‘The Rain Killer.’ The ravages of corruption and depravity are never reflected in Dorian’s enduringly handsome face. Only the photograph Basel once took of him reflects his dissolute soul.

Saturday 4th July 2015


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