“It’s been overwhelming and quite humbling to be frank.” Ross Dinwiddy has been taken aback by audience responses to The Tragedy of Dorian Gray at Brighton Fringe. Read what he has to say about updating the Wilde classic, the effect of Covid and filming the show, then book your tickets!
The Blue Devil production, which was due to debut at last year’s Brighton Fringe but was postponed due to COVID, ends its run at the Rialto on 24 June 2021. While those shows may be sold out, theatre fans can still catch it online until 27 June 2021.
It’s 1965, the world has changed, and London is swinging…
In a studio in Chelsea, a young man is about to have his portrait painted. From there, Dorian’s story of fame, vanity, lust and corruption will take audiences on a twisted odyssey through heartbreak, betrayal and a touch of bloody murder.
This brand new adaptation of The Tragedy of Dorian Gray is written and directed by Ross Dinwiddy, co-founder and Artistic Director of Blue Devil Productions. Dinwiddy previously directed Blue Devil’s inaugural production, Ruffian on the Stair, which earned the company a Best Newcomer nomination at the 2017 Brighton Fringe Awards. He went on to write and direct Apparatus, which was nominated for the Best New Play at the 2018 Brighton Fringe Awards, and 2019’s The Geminus, which followed Brighton success with a run at London’s Tristan Bates Theatre.
Maximus Polling leads the cast of The Tragedy of Dorian Gray, taking the title role. Kace Monney stars as Harry Wotton. Tara Clark, Christopher Sherwood and Heather Alexander complete the cast. While Tom Taplin plays the role of Alan Campbell for the filmed production, live audiences will see the role played by Conor Litten.
e, 11 Dyke Road, Brighton, BN1 3FE as part of the Brighton Fringe from 22-24 June 2021, with performances at 8pm. Tickets are priced £12.50. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE! The Tragedy of Dorian Gray also runs online as part of the festival. Tickets are priced £9. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE.
Read the interview with The Tragedy of Dorian Gray writer Ross Dinwiddy
What drew you to the classic tale of Dorian Gray?
It struck me that besides the one central conceit, this is not really a supernatural story. Dorian turns out to be a monster, yes, but a monster that could and does exist in the real world. So, with that in mind, I wanted to explore some of the darker motivations of Dorian and all the characters that surround him, but to balance this with the engrossing and fun tale it always was.
Why did you make the decision to set it in the 60s?
I wanted it to become a different commentary and didn’t want simply to dramatise the book. I wanted to mold and shape something new and fresh. I kept running into brick walls when I first started work on it (at the time it was still set in the 1800s) and after a few false starts I came back to it in early 2019 with the new idea to set it in the 1960s. I felt that it was a period of rapid social change and in many ways the beginning of the modern world. I became very inspired by the idea of Dorian’s odyssey starting there.
The story has received many adaptations over the years. What has your adaptation brought to it?
I decided not to do a straightforward adaptation, but rather a new story based on the Wilde original using the main beats and the overall concept. I suppose one of the major changes to the story is that of the character of Sybil, who is now a successful Oscar-winning actress and Dorian’s point of entry into London society. At the start of the story, it is Sybil that holds the cards and has the power. Alan Campbell is another character that, in the original, appears and disappears simply to be blackmailed by Dorian. In our story he has been opened out into a more fully formed person.
This production was originally due to be staged at last year’s Brighton Fringe. How did you feel when you had to postpone that original run?
It was devastating to be honest; we could see it was inevitable several weeks before the axe fell. As you may remember, Brighton & Hove had one of the earliest outbreaks of Covid in the UK and as a city we all reacted pretty quickly and adapted to life with a higher level of vigilance. The city became very quiet, very quickly. We decided in early March to put rehearsals on hold, not wanting to put any of our cast or crew in harm’s way, and a week before the government announcement we decided we had to pull the plug, fully expecting that things would be back to normal come the summer. Some hope!
How has the production altered in the year in between?
One of the upsides of having to stop was that I was able to refine the script, building a couple of characters further and improving their arcs. Using Zoom to keep the project moving, we found it an incredibly useful tool in that I could sit for hours developing character and performance with each cast member, something that would have been very difficult to achieve in a normal rehearsal room setting. In fact, Zoom conversations are something I intend keeping as part of my future practice as a director. It forms such a great foundation for when we do get into the rehearsal room together.
Why did you make the decision to present both a live and filmed version for Brighton Fringe?
There was always a plan to film the play, but we brought those plans forward. When we decided that we would take the plunge and be part of Brighton Fringe 2021, we felt that the opportunity to present a filmed version was one we shouldn’t miss. Not only does it mean that people who are unable to attend the theatre for a myriad of reasons, including Covid, but also that people across the country and the globe will have access to the piece. Plus, I had a very firm aesthetic in mind using a highly composed, black and white, widescreen process that completely spoke to me as an alternative way of presenting this story and would stand apart to its live theatrical version. A window into 1960s Britain, like the worlds seen in films such as Billy Liar and A Taste of Honey.
How do the two versions differ?
The filmed version is perhaps more intimate, we use quite a lot of close up and more intrusive camera work so that the viewer isn’t simply looking at a filmed piece of theatre, but at something more hybrid. What has been a very interesting outcome of filming the play before we had any chance to do the blocking and choreography for the staged version is how much it has informed the performances for the live shows.
In what ways has the filmed version informed the live version?
Performances from the cast are more intense, more still. We haven’t changed a huge amount of the stage version, but we did see certain character traits emerging during filming that we had not seen during rehearsal and we have kept those.
What did you see in Maximus Polling that drew you to cast him as Dorian?
We first worked with Maximus during Apparatus where he played the part of The Soldier. I was so impressed with him that I rewrote the final scene, making him the central character after the demise of The Officer. I think that one of the interesting things about Max is his quality of being able to play innocence and malevolence at the same moment – it’s wonderful to see. We saw genuine leading man potential in him which he has lived up to totally. And in addition to that, we all think he’s a very handsome man! So, the combination of all that, makes him our perfect Dorian.
Do you have any future plans for the production?
After Brighton, we will be performing at The Stables Theatre in Hastings in July and we are in talks to bring the play to Manchester and a full London run in the autumn. We expect to have confirmation of the dates soon. We are also looking into showing the filmed version at various festivals around the world, especially those that budget and logistics simply wouldn’t allow us to travel to physically. Beyond all this, we are investigating other festivals and locations, but these are still at a very early stage of development. We see Dorian Gray as a long-term project and want to be as ambitious as possible with it.
The Tragedy of Dorian Gray seems to have been very well received at Brighton Fringe this year.
Yes, it’s been overwhelming and quite humbling to be frank. We had no idea what to expect when we committed to staging the play in this year’s festival and this enthusiastic response has been amazing. Our entire run has completely sold out, we’ve received 4 and 5-star reviews and an OffFest Nomination which feels like such a great honour. Audience feedback we’ve seen across social media has been so complimentary and inspiring. People really do seem to have enjoyed and got so much out of our play. It’s a wonderful feeling for all involved who have worked so hard to get this in front of an audience.
What can audiences expect from The Tragedy of Dorian Gray?
As I touched on earlier, what they won’t get is a straightforward adaptation of the novel. There is little to none of Oscar Wilde’s dialogue in it, possibly, just two or three lines remain. Setting it in the 60s and up to the millennium meant that using such language would have sounded all wrong in the setting. It has been said that within the character of Dorian we have shifted from simple vanity to dangerous clinical narcissism. But don’t worry, there are lots of laughs, hopefully, in there too.
The Tragedy of Dorian Gray runs at Rialto Theatre, 11 Dyke Road, Brighton, BN1 3FE as part of the Brighton Fringe from 22-24 June 2021, with performances at 8pm. Tickets are priced £12.50. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE! The Tragedy of Dorian Gray also runs online as part of the festival. Tickets are priced £9. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE.