Reviewed: The Picture of Dorian Gray
By Matt Robinson
The words ‘a brave production’ are bandied about Durham theatre frequently, seemingly randomly. However it couldn’t be more true here. It is not just the story that the story is difficult to portray but adapting Wilde’s novels for the stage will always lead to a direct comparison with the plays he actually wrote; reconstituted wit compared to free range, organic wit.
It is a classic story; the handsome Dorian Gray becomes obsessed with his own beauty and, acting under the influence of Lord Henry Wotton, begins to search only for pleasure; a life of debauchery and sin follows.
Charles Warner as Dorian Gray was a delight to behold, his transformation from naive young man to a haunted and tortured soul was wonderfully realised; towards the finish he was deliciously evil and yet also fragile so his end became almost inevitable. George William Sturley as Lord Wotton on the other hand was miscast; some of Wilde’s best witticisms were churned out in a monotonous drawl leaving them dull and mundane. Lord Wotton is described in the novel as a dandy and so it struck me as odd that the directors had chosen to dress him in such a jumble of clothing – with an old school blazer and some absolutely filthy shoes. It was simply impossible to imagine anyone being influenced by the Lord Henry Wotton we saw and it was a great shame.
I had no such qualms about the rest of the cast however. Dave Spencer has found the perfect role playing the wet, pathetic creature that is Basil Hallward though I did find myself rather thanking Mr Gray when he was finally killed; being sensitive is all well and good but to be on the verge of tears at all times it somewhat tiring. Henry Yorke as Lord Fermor was superb, totally convincing as an aging, slightly bumbling conservative and also gained the first proper laugh from the audience. Conor Turley portrayed James Vane, a man intent on killing Dorian Gray, with an intensity which was startling and quite brilliant.
The directors, Tom Eklid and Steffi Walker, seem somewhat confused as to the time in which the play was set. The set was a baffling hybrid of a victorian library and a modern day student’s living room. Between each scene change we were treated to blasts of music ranging from Joy Division to James Blake, I was informed by my programme that this was to emphasise that Dorian Gray is a story for all generations, but surely to represent this you should choose music which is not so connected with a particular era. I was rather pleased when the shadow of the portrait hung above the stage at the end of the first half but it would have been more effective if this had continued throughout the second half to remind us that the portrait was continuously hanging over Dorian Gray.
As the curtain came down though my overall feeling was one of satisfaction. In the end the play was unspoilt by inconsistent and at times questionable directing. As I left the Assembly Rooms I felt that it was not an evening wasted.