“a thrillingly inventive show, with strong and engaging performances from every cast member”
The programme promises an ‘electric’ performance ‘steeped in queer rage exploring how the most famous female character of all time is trapped within a life chosen for her’. This off-putting hyperbole shouldn’t stop you rushing to see this terrific re-imagining of Ibsen’s famous 1891 masterpiece.
Turn-of-the-century Norway has become present day London in Harriet Madeley’s sassy new play which is a co-production with A Girl Called Stephen Theatre, which has as its mission ‘queer/womxn led theatre for Reading and beyond’. The script is sharp and witty with heaps of semi-poetic dialogue that includes a knowing line about White Company bedlinen and another about school mums with ‘puffa coats and keep cups’. In this production there’s also clever use of a pair of microphones that heighten the audience’s appreciation of key passages of dialogue.
The cast of five is directed by Annie Kershaw. She has put together a thrillingly inventive show, with strong and engaging performances from every cast member. Anna Popplewell fizzes with magnificent frustration as Hedda, stuck in a new marriage with an innocent young academic called George. This may be her first stage role, but she has distinguished film and TV credits including the Chronicles of Narnia for Disney and Love in a Cold Climate for the BBC.
Mark Desebrock’s George (Globe on Tour, Beauty and the Beast at NT and many more) is likeably naïve and a perfect foil to Hedda. Ryan Gerald makes George’s publisher Brack a vividly gangling wide-boy. George’s former male colleague and new rival Eilert Lövborg has become Hedda’s lover Isla in this show. She’s played with energy and conviction by Jessica Temple (Peter Pan, National Theatre and roles at Nottingham and Bristol). Natalie Perera strikes just the right note for Thea, Isla’s slightly goofy and foolish lover and co-worker.
Designer Amy Watts has devised a striking set with a deep well almost like a boxing ring at its centre. The simple design enables some impressively creative lighting design by Murong Li. The sound design by Jamie Lu is similarly smart, with some subtle atmospheric sounds that ramp up the tension just when it is needed.
In the thrilling second half, the light-hearted verbal fisticuffs shift up several gears. To escape her trap, Hedda must ‘do something beautiful’. An impressive denouement is achieved at speed and with the shocking impact of the best classical tragedy.
“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.