Trafalgar Studios, London – until 13 February 2016
If it tells you nothing else, The Picture of Dorian Gray reminds you Oscar Wilde was a playwright not a novelist and this, his only work of prose fiction, emerges as a script with merely minor tinkering and additional source material from Wilde’s surviving grandson Merlin Holland.
It also reminds you that Holland is a hagiographic biographer not a playwright since the script suffers equally from tedium and predictability, with an uneasy mining of Wilde’s most popular plays for epigrams handed pointedly on tongs to the audience like lumps of sugar from Gwendolen to Cecily’s teacup in The Importance of Being Earnest.
Besides, have we not minced round this particular block only too recently? Apart from the recent and finer versions of Dorian Gray, including The Alchemic Order’s eerie three-hour promenade at Greenwich, this self-same production had an airing at the St James’s Studio barely six months ago, and John Gorick was here at the Trafalgar in almost the same wig and frock coat as Oscar himself in The Trials of Oscar Wilde.
When published, by an American magazine outside the British censorship regulations, The Picture of Dorian Gray was the most scandalously homoerotic fiction yet seen. Peter Craze‘s denatured and bland production reduces it to clay – at no point is the atmosphere charged with anything approaching sexual electricity, and you’d think a hundred years after the event, two of the men might actually kiss, if only in a shadow. Instead, three of the cast of four are too busy doubling and trebling the 21 roles and humping only the furniture.
At West End prices, this is disgraceful – even if not all the caricatures are as grainy as the ‘League of Gentlemen’ drag duchesses and matrons which rob both Rupert Mason as lovestruck artist Basil Hallward and Wilde-light John Gorick as Lord Henry Wotton of their chance to deliver fully sustained and detailed performances. As all the other women, poor Helen Keeley appears seven times in different costumes but the same hairpiece so half the time you have only a limited idea of who she is meant to be.
Guy Warren-Thomas has both a chiseled face and a pert bottom which he closely positions in front of the faces of customers in row A on so many occasions it seemed to be inviting a bite from his peach, but unfortunately willowy flamboyance and a nice waistcoat aren’t enough to lift Dorian Gray off the page.
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