The Alchemic Order’s production of The Picture of Dorian Gray, for which Samuel Orange has transformed his house, is wildly inventive. From the offset, one cannot help but admire the commitment and effort that has gone into the production design, which doesn’t fail to surprise us throughout the performance as rugs are rolled up to reveal that the floorboards have been replaced with glass windows so that we can see into the basement below.
However, as playful and remarkable as this transformation is, this promenade performance certainly suffered from a lack of careful planning which often meant that a large portion of the audience were straining to see or hear the action from where they were sat or stood. A lack of clear audience management caused a fair deal of confusion at times, as for the most part we were shepherded around by house servants Mrs Leaf (Louise Larchbourne) and Victor (Mark Laughtone), who both maintained notably strong character throughout the performance and interval, yet at other points we were left sat at the bottom of the garden, uncertain as to whether the action had moved inside and whether we should too.
Of course, the sound of planes flying overhead or traffic on nearby roads cannot be helped by the production team, but for the majority of the performance the cast seemed unaware that this was impeding the audience’s reception, and continued to deliver their lines at the same volume whether we were sat five feet or five metres away from them. This was unfortunate given that the performances were, on the whole, commendable, with Samuel Orange’s portrayal of Lord Henry Wotton nicely playing up to Oscar Wilde’s sardonic text, and Ashlie Walker delivering a comic interpretation of the dramatic thespian Sibyl Vane. However, Walker’s performance in the basement was largely lost on the audience as we struggled to hear her words; even the slightest shuffle or cough from a fellow audience member was enough to drown out the actors a floor below us. A number of poignant lines were also brushed over at times, suggesting that the focus has been much more on the design of this production than the text itself.
A clear effort has been made to infect Orange’s house with the themes of Dorian Gray, (mirrors cover the walls of one room), yet the decor does at times seems slightly forced, with curtains being awkwardly pulled back to reveal these mirrors, which serves less to enhance the performances and more to distract the audience. There is something about the nature of the themes, and the slightly awkward staging and angles of this production ,which unfortunately make it feel shoehorned into the house, rather than paying careful attention to the environment.
With the level of commitment that had been made to the aesthetics of this production, it seems that Orange could have found a far more inventive way to portray Dorian’s death to avoid a feeling of anticlimax. Nonetheless, this is an ambitious, creative and memorable experience, and we are certainly made to feel welcome guests in the house.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is playing at a secret location until 28 September. For more information and tickets, see the Alchemic Order’s website.