THE PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GRAY
by Oscar Wilde
adapted by Lucy Shaw.
Jermyn Street Theatre, 16B Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6SJ to 6 July.
Mon – Sat 7.30pm. Mat Thu & Sat 3.3opm.
Runs 90 mins. No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7287 2835.
Reviews: William Russell 12 June
The picture in the attic play
Director Tom Littler and playwright Lucy Shaw have come up with a version of Wllde’s famous tale which at times seems like a choral work for four voices as the tale of obsession with image, beauty and doing whatever one pleases unfolds rather than a normally constructed play. But Littler has added other dimensions. His cast, two men, two women swop roles so providing four different experiences are there for the theatregoer on four successive nights. It is an intriguing concept and the actors have tackled what must be extremely difficult with undeniable skill.
I saw two versions. In the first Dorian and Henry Wotton, his seducer are played by the men, everyone else, including Basil Halward, who paints the portrait and who loves Dorian, by the two women. It worked well. In the second version Dorian and Wotton were played by the women which, while they created a fine Sapphic element as Lady Henry seduced and debauched the beautiful Dorian had problems when it came to characters like Sybil who, somehow or other, remained a young actress whereas Dorian and Woton were women. It all gets a little bit complicated as the pack is shuffled and I am not sure that it is wholly successful although both Stanton Wright and Helen Reuben were suitably beautiful Dorians, Richard Keightley was a splendidly louche and debauched Wotton and Augustina Seymour a sparklingly dangerous Lady Henry.
There is a fashion in the theatre for women to fill roles written for men which sometimes enhance the play, sometimes it just makes nonsense of it all. However director Tom Littler makes clear n the programme notes that the idea was simply to experiment, to ask how things felt if it was a woman or a man in the role, and why. “We didn’t have a point to make – it was just a series of questions,” he says.
Interesting although it is watching all four combinations would be asking quite a lot of any audience and two combinations were quite enough for me. Part of the problem was that the play Shaw has devised never catches fire. Every now and then a character will confront another, but all too often it is recitative by one, usually Dorian, while the other three players prowl in slow motion round the edges of the stage. She has also not managed to define the sex of the characters. Sybil played by a man as Sybil a beautiful young teenage actress is impossible to believe. For a start Richard Keightley, who has the looks and technical skills to create a loathsome Wotton is slightly ridiculous trying to be a teenage beauty of the opposite sex so that the cruelty of Dorian, after she discovers Sybil is not the characters she plays in the theatre, also becomes hard to take, as does calling the obviously female Dorian Prince Charming. On the other hand when Dorian is played by the handsome Stanton Wright, who is blessed with the looks that would have made his Dorian anybody’s toy boy, and is called Prince Charming one accepts it. The text needs fixing in terms of gender.
The themes Wilde is dealing with about power, influence, corruption of others, self love and the nature of art are all there, as are some fine lines, but Shaw’s dramatisation all too often sees Wilde’s wit landing with a dull thud, the rapier thrust required is simply not there. The verdict – interesting questions, well worth asking have been posed. But the construction of the play really does not work, we never see the portrait, although that is not necessarily a bad thing, and it proves a long, occasionally baffling, ninety minutes, certainly in both cast combinations I saw.
Casts for the versions I saw
Dorian Gray: Stanton Wright.
Basil Hallward, James Vane, Duchess or Monmouth: Helen Reuben.
Henry Wotton, Mr Vane: Richard Keightley.
Sybil Vane, Aly Carmichael, Adriana Singleton: Augustina Seymour.
Dorian Gray: Helen Reuben.
Basil Hallward, James Vane, Duchess of Monmouth: Stanton Wright.
Henry Wotton, Mrs Vane: Augustina Seymour.
Sybil Vane, Alan Carmichael, Adrian Singleton: Richard Keightley.
Director: Tom Littler.
Set & Lighting Design: William Reynolds.
Sound Designer: Matt Eaton.
Costume Designer: Emily Stuart.
Movement/Assistant Director: Julia Cave.
Production Photographer: Samuel Taylor.
The plays perform in sequence and check with the box office as to which you wish to see