The Picture of John Gray at The Old Red Lion
Many already know the story of Oscar Wilde; how his life played out in an exposé of his downfall for acts of “gross indecency” with other men, but not many people are aware of the life of John Gray, a young man who briefly enjoyed an illicit love affair with the famous writer and ultimately became the object of Wilde’s infamous creation, Dorian Gray.
Writer Craig Wilmann sets out to expose the life of John Gray, aka Dorian Gray, in this heartfelt play that at its very core explores sexual identity and religion in a simple love story at a time when it was unsafe to be gay. Ditched by Wilde in 1889 as London became a hunting ground for sodomites, Gray faces an ultimate choice: should he choose sanctuary in the purity of his faith or in the arms of a man who truly loves him?
The play opens shortly after the publication of Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray at the home of lovers Charles Shannon and Charles Rickets as they host a soirée for Wilde and his circle of friends. John Gray attends together with Lord Alfred Douglas (“Bosie”) and French critic Andre Raffalovich. Therein the sparks fly as they seek to resolve their artistic differences and a passionate affair ensues.
Patrick Walshe McBride plays a childlike, gentle and poetic John Gray, sensitively reflecting Gray’s inner conflict of love versus faith against a milieu of his desire not to be known as Dorian Gray. The scenes with Christopher Tester, who excels as critic Raffalovich, are completely absorbing and undeniably believable as their relationship evolves into a loving and virtuous partnership. Tom Cox as Bosie is overbearing and malevolent. Revelling in ridiculing Gray’s poetry and vying for Wilde’s affection, Cox suggests Bosie’s deep-seated insecurity in knowing that Wilde, so taken by Gray, had made him the object of Wilde’s only novel.
The play, albeit beautifully written and capturing the essence of that era, seems to forget about the two Charles’ who lack significant character growth. As a result, Jordan McCurrach, who is capable of extraordinary emotional depth, seems almost wasted as the slightly one-dimensional Shannon.
Nonetheless, this is a beautiful, often funny play, tender in its portrayal of what it was like to have been associated with Wilde at a time of homosexual repression. And although it scrimps on addressing the effect of Wilde’s fictional portrayal on Gray’s life, Wilmann is successful in casting a more honest light on the man who would always be known as Dorian Gray.
The Picture of John Gray is on at The Old Red Lion theatre from 5th August until 30th August 2014, for further information or to book visit here.