Pictures of Dorian Gray – A
Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed – 10th June 2019
“The performances are all beautifully executed”
As director Tom Littler notes in the programme, Dorian Gray has become a kind of folklore: even if you haven’t read the novel you know the story, or at least some abridged version of it; a withering portrait hung in an attic. But it’s Wilde’s combination of wit and wisdom that has kept the story alive, seeing both the humour and tragedy of the premise. Unfortunately, Littler and writer Lucy Shaw have leaned instead on unsmiling introspection, leaving the light-heartedness out almost completely.
The content itself is still round about where Wilde left it – a beautiful young man wishes that his portrait would age rather than himself so that he might retain his youthful allure, and his wish comes true. The moral implications unfold – if you were to wear no signs of your transgressions, carry no cross for your regrets, and therefore lose sight of your humanity, would it all still be worth it, to be beautiful and to enjoy all things pleasurable?
The dialogue is also lifted directly from the page, so technically the humour is still present, but the sound design (Matt Eaton) has strange atmospheric soundscapes and heavy ominous echoes trounce any comic delivery – it’s hard to laugh when the audience feels they’re supposed to be taking it all very seriously.
It seems this is more of a dramatic exercise than an audience-ready production. The directive decisions are more out of curiousity – what if we did this – than to enrich the story. The big gimmick is that each night the actors will switch roles and thus the characters will switch genders- there are two men and two women. Quoting Littler directly from the programme notes, “We didn’t have a point to make – it was just a series of questions.” It’s the sort of thing you might try in rehearsal as an experiment but it seems bizarre to play it out on stage when there’s no reason.
As is fitting for a plot filled with hedonism, the production does look beautiful (William Reynolds). Two slanting mirrors flank the stage and tens of bauble filament bulbs hang low. The costume follows suits (Emily Stuart): there’s lots of black velvet and silk encrusted with gold and jewels, and whilst everyone has their own outfit, they all follow a similar theme, lending a very pleasing aesthetic cohesion.
The performances are all beautifully executed. Richard Keightley (playing Henry Wotton in the production I saw), is particularly adept, a perfect combination of predatory and charming. The trouble is that whilst everyone performed well and delivered their lines with conviction, it was mostly drowned out by the over-stylisation of the production – the strange ‘narrators’ interrupting the scenes to quote abstractly from Wilde’s well-known preface, for example, or the need to have the whole cast on stage throughout, beautifully choreographed (Julia Cave) to move with inexplicable purpose. What is the message we’re supposed to be receiving here? Unfortunately, I don’t think the cast knows any more than we do.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by S R Taylor
Pictures of Dorian Gray – A
Jermyn Street Theatre until 6th July
The cast switch roles at different performances, giving you a choice of four versions: A – Male Dorian with male Wotton, B – Male Dorian with female Wotton, C – Female Dorian with male Wotton and D – Female Dorian with female Wotton. See Jermyn Street Theatre website for dates each version is performed.
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: