“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.
“DuBois is an exceptionally funny performer and certainly knows how to put on a show that will leave anyone in stitches”
Who wouldn’t want to attend their own funeral? With the opportunity to listen in to heartfelt eulogies from your nearest and dearest, you can’t go wrong. Certainly, that is how Myra DuBois, award-winning drag persona of Gareth Joyner and 2020 Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist, sees it, using the theatrical plot device of her own death to stage a show in celebration of, you guessed it, herself. The new genre of theatre which she entitles ‘snuff cabaret’ takes us through the dearly departed’s highs and lows from her majestic birth (a star is born) to her questionable entanglement with her ex-wellness guru.
DuBois’ wit is unparalleled, especially when interacting with the audience. A particularly hilarious moment came when DuBois asked someone whether they had seen her perform before to which they said they had at a pub in Chiswick only a few weeks prior. Myra’s indignation at being reminded of such ‘lowly work’ whilst upon a West End stage was simply brilliant and became a recurring joke throughout the show. The queen’s comedy never lets up and barely a minute goes by without some sort of punchline or biting insult being hurled at those sat in the first few rows of the stalls. An extra bonus were those jokes directed at the audience at home as the show was being streamed online for those antsy about returning to live venues.
DuBois delivers three punchy musical numbers, the first to open her set emphasising just how ‘D E A Dead’ she really is. She goes on to sing about how selfish it would be for her to be an organ donor (as only one person rather than the masses would benefit from her sacrifice) in a jaunty ‘Always Look on the Brightside of Life’ style tune. The show closes with a rousing rendition of Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson’s I Know Him So Well with Myra and the audience assuming these roles respectively.
Before Myra took to the stage however, Frank Lavender, a self-entitled sex symbol from south Yorkshire, warmed up the audience with an amusing yet near painful repetition of a series of ‘dad jokes’ which frequently elicited audible groans arose from the audience. Though his set was enjoyable, especially the sections featuring his second wife (and DuBois’ plainer twin) Rose, this was a questionable way to open the show as Lavender’s comedic stylings were unlikely to energise the audience. Followed as well by a lengthy thirty-minute break before Myra’s set, the first hour of the show lacked momentum though was quickly forgotten once DuBois stepped on stage.
Rose returned to the stage throughout the performance to support DuBois. Her most notable contribution was reading a poorly rhymed poem to honour her ‘deceased’ sister. Rose’s presence offered some variety and allowed for further brilliance from DuBois as she berated her less glamorous sibling.
The set is simple but highly effective. Four white columns topped with flowers frame the stage with an urn and large image of the departed at the centre. DuBois lamented how she wanted the stage to look like Buckingham Palace in 1997 but it in fact looked more like a school gate after a car crash with one bunch of gas station flowers discarded on the floor (just once example of the queen’s outrageous humour). The lighting was variable and playful, moving effortlessly between dramatic spotlights to colourful fanfare. DuBois looked phenomenal as well, her vintage hair and make up dazzling in the West End lights.
It is no surprise that Myra has such a dedicated legion of fans (which she brilliantly calls AdMyras). DuBois is an exceptionally funny performer and certainly knows how to put on a show that will leave anyone in stitches.