The Picture of Dorian Gray at Trafalgar StudiosCultureTheatre
Guy Warren-Thomas is no stranger to donning period costume – he’s previously appeared on screen in the nation’s beloved Downton Abbey. But this time he’s taking centre stage, playing the titular character in a new adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s gothic masterpiece. He presents us with a beautiful – and beautifully acted – Dorian; as a young man, his halo of golden locks, chiselled cheekbones and piercing blue eyes all contribute to his boyish appeal. It’s easy to see why Basil (Rupert Mason), peering out from behind his canvas, falls for his youthful charm. This cherubic appearance is wonderfully juxtaposed by Dorian’s increasingly callous nature, as he begins to pursue a selfish, hedonistic life of sensual pleasure.
But Dorian’s desire to experience life’s “wild joys” and remain forever young comes at a price. Looming over him is the once exquisite portrait that bears the burden of his shame, physically transforming into a vision of ugliness with every bad deed. Remaining on stage throughout (a huge empty frame to be filled with the audience’s own terrible imaginings), the portrait is always within view, reminding us that Dorian’s actions are not without consequence. As the portrait ages, Warren-Thomas skilfully depicts Dorian’s transformation from a carefree dandy into a man tormented by his own actions.
Written with Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland, the European Arts Company’s adaptation is timed to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the novel’s publication. Re-introducing some of its suppressed passages – in particular the homoerotic ones – their intention is to present us with a play that is faithful to Wilde’s original, uncensored creation. We see this in the scenes between the painter and the sitter he idolises. Pushed by Dorian into revealing his true feelings, Basil’s moving and genuine confession of love provides a stark contrast to the play’s portrayal of heterosexual romance, in Lord Henry’s hilarious quips about marriage and in Dorian’s empty, theatrical declarations of love for Sybil (Helen Keeley). As Lord Henry, John Gorick brings brilliant comic timing to Wilde’s witty wordplay.
Although the set is small and somewhat limited, the play’s inventive use of special effects succeeds in transporting us to Victorian England, where danger and opium dens lurk just around the corner from the drawing rooms of the well-heeled. Book your tickets now, if you want to experience a “pleasing sort of terror”.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is on at Trafalgar Studios from 19th January until 13th February 2016, for further information or to book visit here.