Reading Rep Theatre
Reviewed – 19th October 2021
“a thoroughly modern and uncompromisingly Queer story”
In an age of toppling statues, do we need heroes any more? Reading Rep has just begun its first ever season in a new home with a play which is partly about Oscar Wilde. This multi-facetted new adaptation of Wilde’s only novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is an appropriate choice for a Reading-based community-focused professional producing theatre which has as its mission the transformation of lives through theatre.
The Rep’s new home is an impressive £1m conversion of a former Salvation Army hall on the east side of the town.
Phoebe Eclair-Powell and Owen Horsley’s smart and engaging play interweaves the story of a beautiful man who makes a Faustian pact with his own portrait with that of Wilde himself, who was imprisoned in Reading gaol after being found guilty of gross indecency with another man. For many of us, Wilde remains an inspiring and heroic figure, not only for his literary talent but also for the great injustice of his conviction. An official pardon was issued in 2017, the 50th anniversary of the abolition of the crime for which he was convicted.
Eclair-Powell and Director Horsley have made ‘Dorian’ a thoroughly modern and uncompromisingly Queer story. It is peppered with references to the hit TV series ‘Pose’, EastEnders and even Blackadder. Some 16 roles are shared by a lively and appealing cast of just three young actors.
In this fast-moving show we see Dorian in a Victorian artist’s studio as well as in the gay nightclub Heaven. We are also reminded of the death of George Michael. It features an excellent picture frame themed set by E.M. Perry and some effective lighting by Simeon Miller. There are also some gorgeous costumes supervised by Fran Levin.
Successfully casting a ‘wonderfully handsome’ character of ‘passionate purity’ is no mean feat. Andro Cowperthwaite is a most impressive choice for the role. His characterisation is committed and compelling, his delivery excellent and his physical presence entirely suited to the role.
Ché Francis tackles the difficult role of both Wilde himself and that of Henry Wotton, who convinces young Dorian of the extraordinary value and fragility of his own beauty. In this fairly breathless piece, their delivery sometimes lacked clarity.
Francis was partnered by RADA graduate Nat Kennedy who plays both the painter Basil Hallward and Wilde’s lover Robbie Ross as well as a number of other characters. These were vivid and often appealing performances which made much of the comic material in the play, partly at the expense of genuinely engaging this reviewer’s sympathy for Wilde’s predicament.
According to one psychologist, to be a hero, one has to be deviant. See the play yourself to decide if Dorian’s Wilde is a hero or not. Whatever you conclude, you will be guaranteed a rich and engaging evening from an enterprising company which deserves every future success in its impressive new home.
Reviewed by David Woodward
Photography by Holly Revell
Reading Rep Theatre until 7th November
Other shows reviewed this month: