The Alchemic Order’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is an imaginative production, impressive in its scope. Taking place in a secret location, the performance immerses spectators into a world of Victorian opulence and hedonism – encapsulated most powerfully, of course, by the character of Dorian Gray himself. The immersive atmosphere is evoked through a combination of lavish set pieces and some brilliant verbal jousting between Dorian Gray and Wotton. Matthew Jordan as Dorian is particularly convincing in portraying first his naivety, later the increasing corruption of his soul – as Wotton influences Gray to embark on a hedonistic, individualistic road that strips Gray of his innocence.
Yet as a direct contrast to the verbal dexterity and charm of Gray and Wotton’s early exchanges, an intense, atmospheric scene comes immediately after the second act. Descending into the basement, you enter a hellish, smoke-filled ‘opium den’, with Dorian Gray at the centre, surrounded by a host of monstrous figures cackling and dancing disjointedly against a backdrop of ominous music. This is the most affecting set piece of the evening, very inventively executed and genuinely frightening, culminating in violent murder.
There are some other very nice touches in this production of Dorian Gray that make it memorable. The painting of Dorian is ingeniously played by an actor, and Dorian alternately tussles with and caresses him. This captures Dorian’s internal moral struggle and increasing domination by the portrait well, while also being very effective visually.
However, for some reason The Alchemic Order choose not to follow the ending of the original tale, in which Dorian Gray destroys the painting and, in doing so, destroys himself. This is a strange omission, as this is the apex of Wilde’s story. Also, at just under three hours in length (albeit including the interval), the production is perhaps a touch too long. Finally, it is not made entirely clear to us spectators when we should move to another room – clearer cues would be helpful. However, considering the performance I attended was only The Alchemic Order’s fifth outing of Dorian Gray, this is understandable, they are still feeling their way to an extent.
These very small quibbles aside, I’d highly recommend you go to see this unconventional take on a classic of literature – particularly if you are a Wilde fan and wish to indulge in an evening of aesthetic decadence.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is playing in Greenwich (venue revealed upon booking) until 31 October. For more information and tickets, see The Alchemic Order website. Photo: The Alchemic Order.