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Review of The Picture of Dorian Gray at St James Studio Theatre

Dorian Gray at St James TheatreOscar Wilde only wrote one novel back in 1890 and he managed to create quite a stir with reviews such as “Why must Oscar Wilde go grubbing in muck-heaps?” 125 years later, there is less of a shock element to the novel and “The Picture of Dorian Gray” has been turned into a play by Merlin Holland (only grandson of Oscar Wilde) and John O’Connor, and is currently on at St James Theatre Studio.

In the late 1800s, portrait artist Basil Hallward (Rupert Mason) is showing off his latest, and to his mind greatest picture, to his friend Lord Henry Wotton (Gwynfor Jones). The portrait, of a handsome young man called Dorian Gray (Guy Warren-Thomas), intrigues Lord Henry, a world-weary cynic of a man who believes in pleasure for its own sake and desires to meet young Mr Gray. Whilst Basil is not keen, believing that Henry will be a corrupting influence on the young boy, there is nothing he can do to stop them two meeting as Dorian arrives for his final portrait sitting. It really does seem to be Dorian’s day as not only does he meet and become firm friends with Lord Henry but Basil finishes his picture and gives it as a gift to him. Whilst Dorian loves the picture he is also sad for it, saying ‘It will never be older than this particular day of June. . . . If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that – for that – I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!’ Oh Dorian, be careful what you wish for.

Under Lord Henry’s tutelage, Dorian starts to enjoy the life of a wealthy young man about town, and falls in love with a young actress, in an off-off-off West End theatre, by the name of Sybil Vane (Helen Keeley). Being a superficial type, Dorian’s love dies quickly and treats Sybil very badly leading to unfortunate repercussions for her and her family, but for Dorian there is nothing and he quickly realises that he can do anything he likes with no consequences for himself. So he flings himself into every vice and experience no matter how degraded, but, everything has a price and someday Dorian will have to pay for his actions.

So, I did read the novel – complete with annotations as to how it had been toned down from the original, a while ago and have to say I really didn’t like it. Whilst there are some wonderful Wilde witticisms and sayings that have passed into the English idiom – ‘Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing’ – I thought the book was badly laid out and the ending rushed. So, it was with some trepidation that I approached the play and I have to say that I was surprised at how good it was. The adaptation works very well and manages to keep all of the good elements of the original book and present a fairly coherent story. Dora Schweitzer’s set design makes maximum use of the Studio’s small stage and Director Peter Craze moves his actors well around the various parts of the theatre, often assisted by the excellent lighting by Duncan Hands.

Guy Warren-Thomas sparkles in the role of Dorian. Initially a very handsome, well dressed, naive young man ready for Lord Henry to corrupt then a star struck lover, a wastrel and a thoroughly nasty piece of work before finally coming to the realisation of who he is and what he has to do. Gwynfor Jones as Lord Henry combines a wonderful mixture of high camp, world-weary cynicism and good natured roguishness to make it plausible that two diametrically opposite types as Dorian and Basil could be close friends with him. Lord Henry also gets the majority of the really good one-liners and Gwynfor obviously relishes every one of them as much as the audience. Full credit also has to go to Rupert Mason and Helen Keeley who portrayed pretty much everyone that Dorian meets on his travels – 15 individual characters – between them.

All in all “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is a nice piece of work. The staging is pretty good – although I did feel some of the scenes were very short, leading to a lot of semi-blackouts as the scenery was shifted to change locations – and the ending is still unsatisfactory for me – which proves it is a true adaptation of the original novel. Apart from these very small quibbles, I left the theatre happy that I had seen a classic novel by one of the world’s leading writers brought to life in stunning style.
4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Running Time: 1 hour 50 mins approx. plus interval

To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the publication of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ European Arts Company returns with a thrilling adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s only novel. Written by Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland and John O’Connor, this is the follow up to the sell out success of ‘The Trials of Oscar Wilde’.

Set in the decadent world of Victorian London, a beautiful, narcissistic 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 features a talented cast familiar from stage and screen, including:

Guy Warren-Thomas as Dorian Gray (Spooks The Greater Good, Downton Abbey), Gwynfor Jones as Lord Henry (The Woman In Black in the West End, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Oldham Coliseum), Rupert Mason as Basil Hallward (Eastenders, A Touch of Frost and most recently The Trails of Oscar Wilde for EAC). Helen Keeley as Sybil Vane (The Importance of Being Earnest, London Classic Theatre. To The End, Southwark Playhouse): It is directed by Peter Craze (Doctor Who, Blake’s Seven). With a lighting design by Duncan Hands and Set design by Dora Schweitzer.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is supported by Arts Council England and Unity Theatre Trust in association with the charity Stonewall.

Tuesday 16th June 2015

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