After OffFest Award-winning success in Brighton and Hastings, Blue Devil Theatre’s The Tragedy of Dorian Gray transfers this month to London’s Drayton Arms Theatre, where Maximus Polling reprises his titular performance as the ever-youthful Dorian.
In this tense and compelling, yet darkly humorous new version, adapter and director Ross Dinwiddy relocates the action of Oscar Wilde‘s 1890 novella from Victorian England to London in the Swinging Sixties.
Maximus told us more about the character, why he prefers 2020s London to 1960s London, and how comfortable it is being naked on stage.
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.
In London, Maximus Polling is joined in the cast by Jordan Louis, Christopher Sherwood, Conor Litten, Chloe Orrock and Heather Alexander.
What started your love of theatre?
It started when I was a teenager. I’d always been obsessed with storytelling. My dad used to read stories to me when I was a kid. Then when I was a teenager and gave acting a go, it just felt like home! The first play that I can remember was Macbeth. I had it on DVD and used to watch it on repeat as a child. The first in-person theatre I saw was Cats. It scared the life out of me!
You previously worked with Blue Devil on Apparatus. What were your highlights from that production?
There are too many to list them all, but I remember every rehearsal had me laughing. And, on the opening night, we had just finished, we were back in the dressing room and everyone was just hugging each other. Nothing tops the feeling of ‘we did it!’
Prior to this production, how familiar were you with Oscar Wilde’s work?
Not that familiar, to be honest! I’d read The Picture of Dorian Gray when I was younger, and I’d seen Dorian mentioned in other media, but that’s it.
How would you describe Dorian Gray as a character?
Conniving, twisted, lost, confused and someone I actually feel sorry for.
How did you prepare for the role?
Lots of research into the 1960s. Ross Dinwiddy and I had many long conversations as well about why this man does what he does, what drives him, and what would interest a man who has everything…
What have you learned from performances in Brighton & Hastings?
That being naked on stage is surprisingly comfortable (it was my first time) and that people laugh to cope with the horrors they’re watching.
What’s your impression of London in the 1960s?
The music and fashion were incredible, the people not so much… I would hate to have lived then, the inequality was horrendous. Today’s not perfect either, but having to hide who you love or what you choose to do because it’s illegal to be who you are is awful. Let alone the colour of your skin or if you’re female. Like I said, we still have a long way to go, but the 1960s in London – or anywhere for that matter – was worse.
What are you most looking forward to about performing in London today?
Getting on stage again! Plus, we’ve had a chance to reflect on Brighton and Hastings, what worked, what didn’t, how we can improve and we’ve added two incredible actors to our already phenomenal cast. I cannot believe how lucky I am to work with these people. Please, no one pinch me, I don’t want to wake up!
In a nutshell, why should audiences see The Tragedy of Dorian Gray?
Because you haven’t seen a version of this story like this. The setting, the characters, the stories told… the performances! Oh my, the performances give me chills… I still laugh, get teary and get angry at times watching what happens, and I think that’s something special after two years. You won’t regret it!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve already alluded to it a few times, but everyone involved in this project is something special. The cast amaze me every single day, the writing and direction from Ross is second to none. Rich Bright (the producer) has been a dream backstage and in rehearsals, and everyone else that’s been involved for even a day has been incredible. To work with people like this is humbling, and I cannot wait for everyone to see what we have all done. I’m a very lucky man.
The Tragedy of Dorian Gray runs from 19 October to 6 November 2021 at the Drayton Arms Theatre, 153 Old Brompton Road, London SW5 0LJ, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, matinees Saturdays at 3pm. Tickets are priced £16 (£14 concessions).