The Picture of Dorian Gray

KATHARINE ELLIOT discovers smokey sensuality alongside awkward innocence in a brilliantly executed exploration of Wilde’s dark philosophy.

ADC aesthetics decadence Dorian Gray narcissism Oscar Wilde painting reading gaol vanity

ADC, 7.45pm, 11 –  15th October, £10/8

Directed by KT Roberts

[rating: 4/5]

Stepping into the dimly lit and smoke-filled auditorium of the ADC, the audience is transported back in time to the world of decadent Victorian sophistication which provided the setting for Oscar Wilde’s original novel.

The wonderfully eye-catching stage set, a collage of mirrors and soft drapes, silently gives voice to the importance of beauty in Wilde’s tale. Already, two figures inhabit this elusive world, orbiting a picture that has its back firmly set to the audience: the picture of Dorian Gray.

It was these two figures that would provide the emotional core and central ability of the performance; James Evans as Henry Wotton, his dark eyes and voice unveiled the personalities of his fellow characters and was the perfect medium for Wilde’s cutting philosophical cynicism. He managed to convey the character’s sophisticated boredom in a way that provoked fascination, and frequently laughter, rather than tedium, in the audience.

His ideal counterpart was present in the impassioned pleas and gentle purity of Jack Mosedale’s Basil Hallward, the story’s tragic champion of goodness. Throughout the night they were a splendid duo – the devil and the angel sitting on the shoulders of our title character.

The supporting cast also featured excellent performances with special mention going to Rozzi Nicholson-Lailey’s charming and tragic Sybil Vane, whose communication of innocence and true-love betrayed was truly heart shattering.

Her mother, acted by Jennie King, provided some cockney comedy relief (the only light laughter in the play) while the other actors, both as individuals –  a collection of aristocrats, paupers, servants and ‘loose women’ – and as a unit – a ghostly chorus manifesting the evil forces driving the characters’ fates –, were also outstanding.

But what of the extraordinary Mr Gray himself? Mosedale and Evans’ dialogue of thinly-veiled desire and curiosity prepared the audience for the entrance of a godlike young man. When reality presented itself, in the form of the gauche and awkward Sam Curry, their disappointment was palpable. Although he acted the part of a shy young ingénue rather convincingly, Curry’s Dorian Gray lacked either the presence or the physical magnetism that should be present in the character, even before his spiral into debauched hedonism.

This deficiency badly weakened his portrayal of the ‘adult’ Dorian, although there were moments in the second half of the play when Curry powerfully demonstrated the calm villainy and manipulative abilities his character so fundamentally required. When contrasted with the excellent performances of Evans and Mosedale, Curry’s Dorian Gray was as 2D as the unseen image which steals the play’s title.

In contrast, Roberts’ staging combined the best of conventional proscenium arch theatre design with flashes of innovation, such as the sinister ‘phantom’ chorus, which added greatly to the overall dynamic of the performance.

Her use of dance to mark the transition from Dorian’s innocence to infamy was truly inspired, utilising fluid sensual motion to explore and expand the boundaries of the cast’s physical relationships.

While the sexual themes of the play were not confronted with the cheap directness of the 2009 film adaption, the choreography left plenty of room for the more powerful medium of imagination. The only weakness of Roberts’ staging lay in its tendency to rush some very pivotal moments in the plot including, sadly, the climactic ending, and to stretch out the periods of inactivity. However these brief lapses did not detract from the play’s vivid brilliance when evaluated as a whole, and hopefully will be ironed out in the ensuing nights of performance.

In short, this combination of polished acting, innovative direction and intense visual evocation of beauty and decadence is one that no-one, especially not any Wilde devotees, should miss.