Merlin Holland is the only grandchild of Oscar Wilde. Determined to carry on Wilde’s legacy through research and writing, he adapted a new version of Wilde’s famous and infamous novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Touring since April as European Arts Company’s current production, it stops off at Greenwich Theatre for a few days before continuing its perky jaunt around the country.
And perky it is. With only a cast of four, this new adaptation is a largely faithful interpretation of the original story. There is a strong emphasis on artist Basil Hallward’s obsession with young Dorian, capturing the agony of Wilde’s creative and frustratingly closeted life. Played by Rupert Mason, he effectively parallels Wilde’s torment and the use of art as an outlet for homosexual expression, endowing his performance with pathos and depth. Guy Warren-Thomas is the androgynous, camp Dorian who begins as Wilde’s bright-eyed young thing making a vain, innocent wish but who slips into a life of debauchery after discovering his unintended immortality. Warren-Thomas manages to evoke some empathy in his later attempts to be good, but his corruption is a delicious downfall to witness. Gwynfor Jones and Helen Keeley complete the cast, with Lord Henry Wotton and Sybil Vane as their best roles. Warren-Thomas was the only actor to not multirole, but the others did so with great vocal and physical distinction. Cross-gendered performances provide some levity to the dark tale, as does energy and complete commitment to detailed characters.
Though the performances were excellent across the boards, there were some structural choices that did not effectively translate from page to stage. The first act was largely exposition, with Dorian only making the conscious choice to live for pleasure right before the interval. As consequence, the second half felt rushed and the effect of time passing was underplayed, though signified by grey hair in Lord Wotton and Hallward. There was also a jarringly out-of-place dream sequence that Dorian has upon receipt of a mysterious book from Wotton. Stylized and physical with coloured lights and smoke, it was unnecessary and the performers appeared uncomfortable and self-conscious.
The set provided simple but versatile atmosphere. The eponymous portrait was an empty frame that Dorian would grotesquely inhabit from time to time though often left empty and darkly lit. This is a device seen before, but an effective one as it fosters audience imagination. The costumes were sumptuous and indulgent, like Wilde himself and the characters he wrote.
This is a truly lovely production. Little is particularly inventive, but it is a classic story executed very well. The performances are certainly the highlight, as is the fact that Wilde’s grandson aided in the creation of the production. The flaws can certainly be overlooked in favour of focusing on the cast and their chemistry. It continues to tour for most of June, ending with a week at St. James Studio in London.
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