Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Underbelly

The defining wit of Oscar Wilde shines through brightly in this subtle yet inventive adaptation of the novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray from Boxtale Soup.

The novel is the well-known and frequently told story of a man who entraps his soul in a painting for the prize of remaining young and beautiful despite aging, with dark and disastrous consequences.

Though both playing characters who have been traditionally male, the women playing Basil and Dorian do not attempt to act as men. This leads to an interesting non-binary being used to explore the very gendered topics of vanity and sensuality that are at the core of the story. In particular, a woman in the role of Dorian Gray is a pointed casting choice in the context of our society that punishes women for aging.

Quirky puppets become minor characters as well as forming the set, and they are expertly brought to life by the cast. They are only fleeting characters in the life of Dorian, and their superficial significance to him is represented in their papery substance.

Basil, Henry and Dorian form the soul of the play. They are the characters to which the most depth is given, with all credit to the three talented actors who play them. Their skill is also evident in the command they have over the puppets that they successfully breathe life into. Polished and intriguing voice work is delivered as they effortlessly slip into different characters. Dorian is the only character who is consistently himself, his vanity expressed in the transience of other people in his life.

Impressive physical theatre is woven through the fabric of the show. It is used to indicate transition between scenes and, most effectively, in the horrific demise of Dorian Gray himself. The visceral portrayal of the picture’s distortion juxtaposes the otherwise composed, traditional acting, making the moments of horror even more haunting. The dancing which opens the play perhaps lacks the drama conveyed by the other instances of physical theatre, but the physicality of the show is generally a great strength.

This play is an imaginative adaption of a well-loved novel. It gives new life into the words without ever undermining the philosophical wit that makes it the work of Oscar Wilde.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is playing at Underbelly Cowgate until August 27. For more information and tickets, go to https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/picture-of-dorian-gray