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THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY – St James Studio, London.

3929641850Merlin Holland and John O’Connor’s adaption of The Picture of Dorian Gray for the European Arts Company has much to commend it. Holland and O’Connor neatly capture Oscar Wilde’s sharp humour and poetic dialogue. They also manage to accentuate the bitter discontentment with Victorian society that rests in the heart of each of the characters, and which certainly was a feeling shared by Wilde himself.

In their adaption, Holland and O’Connor include a number of passages that Wilde was compelled to cut from his novel because they were too shocking for a Victorian audience. This decision pays off. The characters’s sexualities, and importantly their difficulty finding ways of comfortably expressing them, are quite evident and make many of their actions understandable (though frequently not condonable). It also helps to emphasise that the villain of the story is not Dorian, or even Lord Henry who encourages Dorian to seek pleasure at the expense of others, but the oppressive bourgeois society the characters find themselves in. Holland and O’Connor succeed in creating characters an audience can empathise with and in showing how brave it was of Wilde to write such an honest critique of Victorian morals.

Guy Warren-Thomas gives an engaging performance as Dorian. At the start Dorian is eager and impressionable and easily succumbs to Lord Henry corrupting influence. Even as Dorian’s behaviour becomes more deplorable, Warren-Thomas continues to emphasise Dorian’s child-like personality. His emotions are changeable, his actions poorly thought-out, and when he expresses remorse it seems hollow, almost as if he doesn’t really believe what he’s done. This means we can never really feel angry at Dorian, as he never really seems fully responsible for his actions. He is a pitiful rather than a malevolent character.

The rest of the cast also give good performances. Gwynfor Jones is entertaining as the darkly witty Lord Henry. Rupert Mason gives compelling performances as Basil Hallward, the lovelorn painter of Dorian’s famous portrait, and as Jim Vane, the brother of Dorian’s first jilted love Sybil. And Helen Keeley’s performance as Sybil’s is endearing and often moving. However, with the exception of Warren-Thomas, the cast play many other minor characters in addition to their main roles. Often the cast’s efforts to distinguish their many characters are uncomfortably noticeable. Keeley in particular has a plethora of one-dimensional female characters to play. Perhaps because she has to play so many, none of her characters feel real, and this detracts from her really very good portrayal of Sybil.

The set (designed by Dora Schweitzer) successfully conjures the feel of a Victorian gothic tale, without making the production overly clichéd. However, the staging lacks the cleanness and elegance of a really great modern production. Overall, European Arts Company’s production is enjoyable but not quite as impressive as the story itself.

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Reviewed 15/06/15

By Andrea White

15th – 20th June 2015
St James Studio, London, SW1E 5JA.


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