A polished, impressive performance of an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's novel. Uses intense physical theatrical elements and clever immersive techniques to create a genuine atmosphere and experience.
For a Halloween show, The Picture of Dorian Gray is perhaps initially a bold choice. While it contains elements of the macabre and depraved, they aren’t necessarily what you’d constitute as traditional horror. Despite this, the directing team of Olivia Krauze, Natalie May, Ilsa Jones and Georgina Carter have combined their talents effectively to produce an impressively polished production.
The adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s only novel, originally by Merlin Holland and John O’Connor focuses on the young socialite, Dorian Gray (Jordan Gardner) becomes entranced with the teachings of the hedonistic Lord Henry Wotten (Alex Heyre), who leads him astray down a pathway of destruction, hedonism and devastation. He abandons his love Sibyl Vane (Emma Paull) and his painter and close friend Basil Hallward (Josh Vaastra) in search of true perfection and eternal youth, which inevitably has dark and dangerous consequences.
The dynamic between the three leading males is impressive and Basil’s caring if not overbearing attitude clashes brilliant with Lord Henry’s devil-may-care mentality, with both being nuanced by Dorian’s charming initial innocence. Vaastra is utterly superb in portraying the angst and pain of Hallward as he watches his friend slip away from him and his gravitas and emotion echoes throughout every single scene he takes part in. The mix of concern, nervousness, humour and aggression combined with the homosexual undertones which invariably creep in make his performance one of the best I’ve witnessed in a Theatre Group Production. Additional props go to Emma Paull, who handles the role of Sibyl Vane with aplomb, mixing coquettish innocence and charm with high quality expression and performance – not to mention an excellent rendition of Shakespeare- as Dorian’s young lover. Finally, William Shere juggles the roles of Mr Isaacs and Adrian Singleton well, giving both a very unique but still memorable character; the former as a comical buffoon eager to please and the latter as an utterly disturbed and destroyed young man suffering from Opium addiction.
From the first moment of Dorian Gray, audiences are thrust into the action through insightful audience interaction and immersive elements which help to set the overall tone and mood. The staging is effective, using props inventively and generating a claustrophobic feeling of voyeurism- a tone which sets in for the entirety of the performance. Particular props must be given to the usage of mirrors, which are positioned in a way for the audience to truly capture glimpses of the eponymous portrait.
Two particular moments stand out in the production for their supreme quality. Krauze’s own artistic style is embellished through a use of physical theatre as Dorian finds himself reading poisoned pages gifted to him by Lord Henry. The entire dynamic is that of a den of sin, vice and pleasure and becomes utterly entrancing, while maintaining a disturbing quality. It overwhelms the senses, especially in visual and aural tones from the hypnotic beats in the soundtrack, to the smokey haze which fills the stage. Impressive lifts, agility and spinning motions as well as hypersexualised tension combines to create the feeling of pleasure, but also madness and this aptly reflects Dorian’s lifestyle he has fallen into.
Secondly, the scene where Dorian re-unveils the portrait to Basil carries an intense feeling. The impassioned pain of Hallward (again due to Vaastra’s dominating performance) contrasts well with the increased and agitated menace of Gray and the sexualised tension between the two reaches a genuine climax. The stage effects are of a high standard, without becoming gratuitous and offer a genuine shock factor for the audience- punctuated by audible gasps around me as I watched. A special mention in regards to the play’s best speech goes to the powerful soliloquy which signals the end of the first act.
Dorian Gray benefits from well-designed witty back-and-forth between characters as a central device to drive the plot. The general pace of the script is complementary, helping action rather than hindering it and some moments are particular memorable, such as Henry’s quip about American dry goods or Sibyl’s Stockholm Syndrome-esque: “To see him is to worship him.” The elements of theatre-within-theatre are also seamlessly slotted in to great comedic effect and some of the immersive events at times even threaten to upstage the rest of the performance. The soundtrack is perhaps overused in some places, but is particularly effective in climactic moments and the lighting ensures our focus is directed always on every point of action.
Despite this, there are a few small issues with the show. Most notably, it suffers due to the amount of staging in use. This results in longer black-outs for shifting and this was disruptive to the action, particularly in the First Act. Although the cast try hard to not let this affect them too much, there were a couple of moments where this movement was burdensome and resulted in slight disruption. The accidental breaking of glass is a teething trouble I can forgive on opening night, and to be fair, they managed to pass it off quite well. One final gripe is some discrepancy at the very end of the show in regards to slight lighting confusion as the fade on the portrait didn’t quite have the desired effect and instead left the audience confused as to whether the play had completely ended- it had.
Despite these minor setbacks, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a fantastic piece of student theatre, questioning the immortal issue of beauty and youth against a backdrop of hedonism and pleasure. With a generous blend of darker humour and wit, some shocking twists and brilliant individual performances, it is certainly worth going to see if you get a chance. Only giving it four stars is possibly a bit harsh, if I could, I’d give it four and a half.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is on at the Annex Theatre as the Halloween Theatre Group Show from 1st-4th November 2017. Doors open at 7:30 and tickets cost £6 for students, £5 for PA Society Members and £9 for adults. Watch the trailer for the show below: