Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray is one of those timeless pieces of literature that remains incredibly relevant: not least for its homoeroticism and hedonism in gay culture, but also its themes of moral duplicity, public image, and the adoration of youth. Yet with so many adaptations of the story (theatrical and cinematic), it’s difficult to bring something novel and original.
This particular production is adapted by Merlin Holland, Wilde’s only grandson, in which he has restored many of the revisions that Wilde’s original text was subject to under censorship. As a result, Holland has attempted to stay true to Wilde’s original vision. Yet what’s so intriguing about the published version is its homoerotic subtlety, the novel taking on a life of its own as the writer hides his feelings behind his words. Here, though, that subtlety is lost, becoming a far more overtly homosexual narrative.
The first scene feels particularly seedy, with the elder Lord Henry Wotton (John Gorick) and Basil Hallward (Ruper Mason) blatantly fawning over the young Dorian (Guy Warren-Thomas). It’s as if the men openly show their sexual interest rather than a quiet, intriguing fascination. The actors certainly revel in Wilde’s language and philosophy, but the performances lack restraint.
By the time the second act comes around, the pace has quickened considerably, with shorter scenes, actors jumping between roles with little introduction or development, and awkward scene changes. This, in addition to a plain set and amateurish staging, make for a far from handsome picture: it’s clumsy, lacks depth, and the additions are underwhelming. The only personality comes from the comical portrayal of the various peripheral characters. Some of this is purposeful if unnecessary, such as male actors in drag to cover female roles with the finesse of a pantomime dame. At other times it’s unintentional: the darker, mystical elements of the plot are undermined by amusing costumes, spooky music and clichéd voiceover.
The only actor not to change character is Warren-Thomas as Dorian. His angular features are certainly striking but he plays the role with a calm gentility that’s all too polite. Like the production as a whole, it’s overly safe and lacks a distinctive edge – unlike Wilde himself, the cast and crew are too fearful to take a risk.
Watch: The Picture of Dorian Gray runs at the Trafalgar Studios until 13th February.
Photos: Emily Hyland