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Southwark Playhouse Borough

DORIAN: THE MUSICAL at  Southwark Playhouse Borough


“George Renshaw as Harry Wotton gives a show stealing solo performance”

Oscar Wilde seems to be having a bit of a moment. There is a production of The Importance of Being Earnest upcoming at the National Theatre, and The Picture of Dorian Gray was recently staged with Succession star Sarah Snook bagging an Olivier for her performance. Now the Southwark Playhouse is putting on a musical adaptation of Dorian Gray.

In this version, with book and direction by Linnie Reedman and music & lyrics by Joe Evans, Dorian is an overnight online sensation, taken in by the music industry who promise him his youthful beauty can live forever through his music. There are some oblique references to the 27 club of famous musicians who died young and versions of Wilde’s original characters who inadvertently guide Dorian towards his eventual end.

The main challenge with this adaptation is that, conceptually, it just doesn’t work. A musical set in the modern era, that purports to explore how social media affects our perception of beauty can’t just throw in a couple of references to Dorian having gone viral on YouTube, cocaine fuelled industry parties, or things being ‘all over the newspapers… and also social media’. Equally the costume and set (Isabella Van Braeckel), are more Victorian gothic than modern, although the set is successfully reminiscent of a recording studio – multiple Moroccan carpets strewn across the floor, LPs and guitars on the walls and piled with books and bric-a-brac. The story needs greater integration of the contemporary themes it claims to explore in the adaptation to pull it off – or else a straight 19th century adaptation would do.

More heinously though, to evoke the spirits of some of rock and pops greatest talents – Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse – the music and lyrics have got to attempt to match. At a minimum, the music has to lean more ‘pop’ than musical theatre. But all the music is drab and dull, seemingly inspired more by the gothic musicals Phantom of the Opera or Sweeney Todd, but without any of the musicality or lyricism of Lloyd-Weber or Sondheim.

The casting unfortunately doesn’t help matters. Alfie Friedman as Dorian Gray has a very musical theatre voice, with plenty of vibrato, opening the show with a number about living forever that has the potential for a pop-rock ballad inspired by Queen’s, but is instead memorable only in its blandness. There are some exceptions of course. George Renshaw as Harry Wotton gives a show stealing solo performance of Where the Yellow Roses Grow, a highlight of the second act with his intelligent interpretation of the tune. Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson and Megan Hill as Sybil/Fabian Vane are also strong vocalists and being much needed comic relief, particularly in the second act.

Overall, Dorian: The Musical gives sixth-form production energy due to the safe but bland musical numbers, some odd directorial choices, and the half-baked ‘contemporary’ setting. Saved from the abyss by some stand out performances, including a superb guitar solo from a member of the live band, this piece will most appeal to Wilde superfans rather than the masses.

DORIAN: THE MUSICAL at Southwark Playhouse Borough

Reviewed on 10th July 2024

by Amber Woodward

Photography by Danny Kaan



More shows reviewed at Southwark Playhouse venues:

THE BLEEDING TREE | ★★★★ | June 2024
MAY 35th | ★★★½ | May 2024
SAPPHO | ★★ | May 2024
CAPTAIN AMAZING | ★★★★★ | May 2024
POLICE COPS: THE MUSICAL | ★★★★ | March 2024
CABLE STREET – A NEW MUSICAL | ★★★ | February 2024
BEFORE AFTER | ★★★ | February 2024
AFTERGLOW | ★★★★ | January 2024



Click here to see our Recommended Shows page


Wasted – 3 Stars



Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 12th September 2018


“The punk ethic is there but not authentic enough to make us root for these supposed desperados”


There are many famous people who continue to live with us through their work, none of whom could have known how famous they would become posthumously. Artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Johannes Vermeer, writers Franz Kafka, Edgar Allen Poe and John Keats, the Italian astronomer Galileo (who had to wait three centuries before his theories were accepted) and even J.S. Bach was little known in his own lifetime.

The creators of “Wasted”, the new musical at Southwark Playhouse, are adding the Brontë sisters to the canon, the title of which suggests that the three sisters and their often overlooked brother never achieved the recognition they sought nor found their true vocation. Hence, they believed their lives were ‘wasted’. We will never know if this was a real concern to the siblings two centuries ago, but the writers here drum home the imagined anxieties with a mixture of teenage angst and prophetic irony.

Part gig and part rock documentary, Christopher Ash’s music and Carl Miller’s book chart the struggles, frustrations and heartbreaks of Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother Branwell. A four-piece band form the backdrop while Libby Todd’s effective use of flight cases and sheet music create the set, reinforcing the rock theme. With hand held mics, the strong cast of four are the lead singers, imbued with a New Wave tension as they sing about being “stuck in this dump” and “we want to write”. The punk ethic is there but not authentic enough to make us root for these supposed desperados.

Although the narrative is often a touch too quaint to comfortably sit with the style of the songs, the cast do pull off the numbers with an anarchic self-possession. And you can detect a rock band’s politics permeating the foursome. Natasha Barnes’ Charlotte is pretty much the lead here; the strong contender in control, who goes onto a successful solo career. She does, after all, outlive her sisters. Siobhan Athwal gives Emily the tortured soul treatment; emotional and wayward while Molly Lynch, as Anne, is the quiet one who nevertheless is the one who comes across as the most interesting. Not to be outdone by this feminine trio, Matthew Jacobs Morgan holds his own and, even if historically Branwell fell by the wayside, Morgan certainly keeps up with the girls here.

All four sing exquisitely and they do wonders to shake off the dusty image of the Brontë family. The rock score reminds us how radical and visionary they were, yet the punch is weakened by stretching the point to its limit. And many of the songs are far too long, which does lessen the poignancy and the power of the material. Likewise, Adam Lenson’s dynamic direction is diluted in a show that does overrun its natural course. Some ruthless editing is needed for it to truly echo the characters who lived fast and died young.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Helen Maybanks



Southwark Playhouse until 6th October



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