Dorian Gray has the potential to truly haunt its audience, painting a picture of a society in which moral behaviour is eschewed in favour of vanity and thrill-seeking, and the man at the centre of it harms everyone around him. It is a story that can be effectively related to the modern culture of materialism in western society, and provoke its audience to think hard on its significance in their own lives. Writer/director Linnie Reedman is very brave in taking this story on, however this production missed the mark, and was more dull than enlightening.
Katharine Heath’s set design was extremely effective in conveying the multiple settings of the piece, and transformed itself very well. Dorian Gray was performed in a small studio theatre, but the space was so well used that we were able completely to forget its size, which would have been a huge impediment to less well-designed productions. Upon entering the theatre, the coupling of set pieces with dark, smoky lighting created a strong suspenseful atmosphere, setting us up for a haunting theatrical experience.
However no such experience was delivered, and sadly everything about Dorian Gray was just that – grey.
Oscar Wilde’s novel may be a classic, but it is not necessarily timeless in adaptation. Its themes of hedonism and indulgence at the expense of others remain relevant today, but they felt oddly distant in this rendition. Fenton Gray as Mr Isaacs captured the unsettling style of the songs and played the role of narrator well, however it was difficult to understand why his character had been chosen as the focus of the narrative. His motivations against Dorian were made clear, but his position in the plot was so tertiary that he earned little audience sympathy. It relegated Wilde’s social commentary into the background, and left me wishing for so much more.
The function of songs was apparently to create atmosphere, but they were not sung or performed well, which meant that their significance completely passed the audience by. I also found them quite repetitive and not especially well written.
Daisy Bevan was certainly the picture of the ingénue as Sybil Vane, but lacked the acting talent to back this up. Her Shakespeare in particular left a lot to be desired, and in scenes with Dorian she was particularly two-dimensional – though this is in part a fault in the writing. It seemed to be an error for Sybil to be so little included in the play, as I found it extremely difficult to care about the romance when it was given so little time. This could be said of a lot of the play; it’s difficult to translate a 300-odd page book into two hours of action, and parts of the show felt rushed and skimmed over.
In the title role, Jack Fox was able to convey the arrogance and vanity of the character very well, but it seemed that he had not been directed to convey anything else. Particularly missed was the magnetism of the young, attractive Gray, and there was very little emotional range or depth of character. The character was not remotely believable or (when intended) sympathetic, and was frankly boring to watch. This was a common problem in the play; no-one seemed to know who their character was, or how to convey their emotions or motivations, except for Antony Jardine as Basil Hallward, who had moments of brilliance and totally dominated his scenes.
Taking on a classic is a hard thing to do, and in the case of Dorian Gray it simply did not work. Although full of potential, this was a rendition of Dorian Gray that feebly parroted Oscar Wilde’s novel, with none of its poignancy or wow factor.
Dorian Gray plays at Riverside Studios until 10 May. For more information and tickets, see the Riverside Studios website.