Tag Archives: Russell Tovey

The Picture of Dorian Gray

★★★★

Online via www.pictureofdoriangray.com

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Online via www.pictureofdoriangray.com

Reviewed – 12th March 2021

★★★★

 

“Set in a time of lockdown it is uncomfortably portentous, and it triggers the frightening thought that society might be stuck there”

 

When Oscar Wilde unleashed “The Picture of Dorian Gray” onto the world back in 1890, the Irish Times said it was ‘published to some scandal’ and the Daily Chronicle stated that it would ‘taint every young mind that comes in contact with it’. It is debatable whether Wilde courted such a reception, and it is difficult to imagine a similarly outraged reaction were it to be unveiled in today’s climate; but I’m sure he would have been proud of this modernised re-telling of the story. Not so much for the narrative itself but for the way it emulates the original’s intention to challenge the social mores of society. This production couldn’t be more up to date if it tried, as it cleverly tackles the pressures brought on by the growing obsession with our image. Our online image. The dusty attic with its decaying framed portrait has been replaced with the perfect pixels of selfies, and the Faustian pact for the flawless filter.

Written by Henry Filloux-Bennett and directed by Tamara Harvey it is a co-production between the Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre, The New Wolsey Theatre, Oxford Playhouse and Theatr Clwyd: the team that brought us the equally ground-breaking “What A Carve Up!” last October. It treads a similar path, too, by wandering into the realms of docudrama – but with its finger right on the pulse. The story starts at a fund-raising event to support theatres during the pandemic; organised by Lady Narborough, brilliantly portrayed by Joanna Lumley. It is also Dorian’s twenty-first birthday party: the date is July 4th, 2020, the day when the first lockdown ended. Amongst the guests were four friends and we are tantalisingly informed that “within eight months, three of the four friends were dead”.

Lumley is being interviewed, via zoom, by Stephen Fry who is piecing together the series of events in retrospect. Lumley defensively primes Fry with the proviso that “if people are going to see this, I don’t want any come back”; an echo of Wilde’s contemporaries who began to disassociate themselves from him to avoid the fallout from the novel. What follows are echoes of the novel itself, resounding quite clearly and harmoniously within a wider polemic against the dark side of social media.

Fionn Whitehead is Dorian Gray, who makes a deal for his social star never to fade. For his perfect self that he broadcasts to the world to always remain. We all know the true, horrific cost of this will be unavoidably met, but it is the build-up to this that is as fascinating and exciting as the climax. Viewers who know nothing about the original story will be intrigued. Wilde aficionados will relish the anachronisms and twists. Most of the epigrams are there but they are given new and heightened meaning in Filloux-Bennett’s ingenious script. We also see the characters in a fresh light, and it is here that quite a few liberties are taken. As a result, though, the depth of some of the characters becomes a touch diluted. Many of Lord Henry (Harry) Wotton’s lines are given to Basil Hallward, the creator of the portrait, and vice versa. Whilst this serves to demonise Russell Tovey’s Basil to great effect, it relegates Harry Wotton’s role to more of a hanger-on than being instrumental in Dorian’s corruption. Alfred Enoch, however, gives a thoroughly nuanced performance that swings from devil-may-care bravado to owner of a bruised heart in a brush stroke.

The standout is Emma McDonald’s Sibyl Vane. Not so much a victim of Dorian’s murderous rejection, she instead suffers at the hands of internet trolls. McDonald has the star quality to allow us to believe fully in Sibyl’s star struck, vulnerability. We share her shock at the discovery of the potentially fatal power of social media networks; an unregulated battlefield of harassment and bullying. It is powerful viewing.

This production plants a classic Victorian tale into a modern world of fake news, conspiracy theories and obsession with how others see us. Set in a time of lockdown it is uncomfortably portentous, and it triggers the frightening thought that society might be stuck there. Dorian’s descent into corruption and unravelling mental health remains unwitnessed by the outside world. On screen, through the filter he has sold his soul for, he remains beautiful. But desperately alone.

Whilst never feeling like one, this is a state of the nation, public service broadcast, dressed up as a thought-provoking piece of digital theatre. If Wilde were around today it is exactly the sort of thing he would be exploring.

 

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

 


The Picture of Dorian Gray

Online via www.pictureofdoriangray.com until 31st March

 

Recently reviewed by Jonathan:
Right Left With Heels | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Ute Lemper: Rendezvous With Marlene | ★★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Salon | ★★★ | Century Club | December 2020
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk | ★★★★ | Online | December 2020
The Dumb Waiter | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | December 2020
The Pirates Of Penzance | ★★★★★ | Palace Theatre | December 2020
The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas | ★★★★ | Charing Cross Theatre | December 2020
A Christmas Carol | ★★★ | Online | December 2020
Snow White in the Seven Months of Lockdown | ★★★★ | Online | December 2020
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Understudy

★★★★

Online

The Understudy

The Understudy

Online via www.theunderstudyplay.com

Reviewed – 20th May 2020

★★★★

 

“Recorded in isolation, it is propelled by a cast that comprises the cream of the crop”

 

Of all his novels, David Nicholls has said that “The Understudy” is the one he most yearns to rewrite. Those familiar with the book would possibly balk at this show of modesty. It is true that it has been unfairly overlooked in the shadow of his better-known works, but it deserves more of the spotlight. The gentle, self-deprecating humour, laced with a sharp and cutting wit that can only come from experience, casts an astute eye over the ‘theatrical life’; taking us backstage and beyond.

For eight years Nicholls trod the boards himself. He was a failed actor, he admits, his career on a steep downward path. We somehow get the feeling he’s being too hard on himself, but his natural skills as a writer turned that failure into success and, with luck, his story can take centre stage now with its revival as a streamed, online radio play. Released in two parts, it is adapted by Henry Filloux-Bennett in response to Covid-19 thwarting the fully staged production. With director Giles Croft at the helm it is a wonderful homage to an industry under threat and reaffirmation that it has no alternative but to survive. (Consequently, all proceeds from the play go to theatre charities).

The story revolves around actor Stephen McQueen (no, not ‘that’ Steve McQueen); divorced, down on his luck and waiting in the wings for that big break. His ex-wife has given up waiting long ago, while his daughter wonders when he will get a proper job. McQueen’s luck looks set to change when he lands a job understudying the vane but talentless film star, Josh Harper, in the West End. He covets the leading man’s job, but unfortunately, he covets his wife too. When he sees an opportunity to steal both, things can only go horribly wrong.

Recorded in isolation, it is propelled by a cast that comprises the cream of the crop. You can almost ‘hear’ the twinkle in Stephen Fry’s eye as his affectionately sardonic narration weaves through the action; while Russell Tovey epitomises the hapless McQueen. Sarah Hadland, as ex-wife Alison, floors him with her sarcastic punches, but with her skilled shifts of tone can pick him up again with real affection. Josh Harper is suitably arrogant and wonderfully observed in Jake Ferretti’s portrayal. With Emily Atack as his love interest (on and off stage) and Sheila Atim as his intellectually and morally superior wife, they are all supplemented by a fine supporting cast.

The in jokes that litter the script will appeal beyond the theatre profession. Although those on the inside will be familiar with the mantra ‘Acting is Reacting’. It is hard to know whether the foreknowledge that each actor was recording their lines alone in their own homes affects our listening, but we are often all too aware of the isolation. There is a sense of detachment within the flow of dialogue and, inevitably, there will be a lack of chemistry. Nevertheless, with the editing skills and the addition of sound and music from Alexandra Faye Braithwaite, Annie May Fletcher and Sophie Galpin the show stands out as an excellent radio play in its own right. Even though it whets the appetite for the (hopefully) eventual fully staged production, it doesn’t seek to replace the live experience. This rendition of “The Understudy” succeeds in its own right and can, at least for now, step out to steal its own few moments in the spotlight.

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

 


The Understudy

Part One available from 20th May Part Two from 27th May with both parts available for a month

Online via www.theunderstudyplay.com

 

 

Last ten shows reviewed by Jonathan:
Message In A Bottle | ★★★★ | Peacock Theatre | February 2020
Musik | ★★★★ | Leicester Square Theatre | February 2020
Nearly Human | ★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
Tell It Slant | ★★★ | Hope Theatre | February 2020
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★½ | The Turbine Theatre | February 2020
Closed Lands | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Max Raabe & Palast Orchester | ★★★★★ | Cadogan Hall | March 2020
The Kite Runner | ★★★★ | Richmond Theatre | March 2020
The Last Five Years | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | March 2020
A Separate Peace | ★★★★ | Online | May 2020

 

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