Reviewed: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Caroline Gaunt is underwhelmed by ACT’s production.
The perennial problem facing ‘modernised’ adaptations is a failure to commit totally to the concept, and ACT’s production of The Picture of Dorian Gray encapsulates this problem entirely. Some moments are ‘punked up’ (in the words of co-director Steffi Walker) to a truly arresting degree – the dance sequence that opened the second act was absolutely electric and genuinely took my breath away – and others just seem modernised for the sake of it.
The use of electronica, for example, is, at worst, ridiculous, and as it is often the one concession to the contemporary it is out of place and disorientating (the aforementioned dance sequence and Dorian’s death scene being the notable exceptions). Dorian might experience problems which are relevant to a modern audience, and so the idea of an updated version of the story is an admirable one, but Wilde’s archaic word-play and social situations, being fundamentally evocative of the 19th century, do not lend themselves to a modern adaptation.
It is this archaic wordplay which defeats some of the actors, particularly George William Sturley, who has some of Wilde’s most inspired witticisms but manages to gloss over a good many of them through a monotonous and submerged delivery, producing only occasional wry sniggers where his lines really deserved genuine laughter.
Charlie Warner as Dorian Gray was excellent both in his representation of Dorian’s naivety and of his gradual descent into debauchery, but I felt the transition between the two was somewhat bipolar and could possibly have been handled with more subtlety.
Dave Spencer as Basil was, for me, the standout performer, mingling pathos with a nervous energy and an endearing shyness that even elicited the occasional ‘aaah’ from the audience. However, I could not help but feel that many actors were delivering their lines without really committing to them or trying to feel the emotion behind them, which leant the entire production a flat, emotionless tone and considerably diluted the dramatic impetus.
This was not helped by the fact that everyone delivered their lines at break-neck speed, presumably because of the already long running-time but resulting, again, in some very witty exchanges being lost.
Technically the production, again, varies. Lighting has a tendency not to be quite bright enough so that facial expressions are occasionally lost in shadow. Scenery is generally good – Dorian’s flat and Basil’s studio are particularly impressive, the latter particularly evocative in its simplicity – although scene changes could be slicker. Costumes also fall victim to modernisation, with varied effect – again the dance sequence stands out as a highlight here. There are no real disasters, merely, as with many other elements of the play, a general feeling that things could have been done better.
Dorian Gray has an awful lot of potential but unfortunately the finished product doesn’t quite live up to the hype. I commend directors Walker and Eklid for taking on such a seminal piece of literature, and bringing one of Wilde’s darkest tales to the Durham stage, and with a little extra polish they could have given us a genuinely disturbing production. Unfortunately, this show is not developed quite enough to make it engaging.