The Picture of Dorian Gray

Thu 1st – Sat 3rd March 2012

reviews

Helena Marcelle Baker

at 01:16 on 2nd Mar 2012

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Normally I love writing reviews of student theatre. I get free tickets and the ability to pontificate about something I truly love. And student theatre reminds me that students are doing more than simply lamenting the alterations in Klute and the changes to Studio. Tonight it is a chore. Because whilst Oscar Wilde’s words are witty and brilliant and brave and as a (incredibly amateur and hopeful) writer they inspire me. This play relied far too heavily on his legacy; instead of giving his words a medium through which to sparkle, the director used his words as a theatrical crutch.

In the first half the characters were either standing or sitting in clothes that didn’t match the time period. To my knowledge neither white skinny jeans nor brightly coloured velvet monstrosities were particularly common in the early nineteenth century. And the scenery did little to enhance the, rather grim, aspect of the Assembly rooms. Incredibly long scenes were conducted without movement or excitement, even Wilde’s dialogue faltered in such a sad setting.

To the credit of the director, in the second half there was the introduction of more innovative props, with a white sheet used to great effect for the creation of shadows and the hint of darkness and malice. And the cast managed to escape whatever chains had kept them from moving in the first half. The use of music within the play was interesting (and from the muffled sound that emitted from the speakers I’d imagine fraught with technical difficulties.) However, it was only at the very end this truly enhanced the play and whilst the variety of music could be seen as the manifestation of Dorian’s different personalities, I felt it was rather confused.

Dorian, played by Charlie Warner, proved himself to a varied and impressive performer, although for me, Dave Spencer, who played Basil Hallward, truly excelled and even in the lacklustre first half managed to captivate and enthral. Unfortunately Lord Henry Wotton, played by George William Sturley, whilst being given some of Wilde’s best lines, fumbled and mumbled his way through the play, which wasn’t aided by the fact that he seemed to forget a fair few of them. Whilst the cast was numerous and rather good, they weren’t utilised to great effect, with the play being dominated by Dorian, Basil and Henry. This all became rather tedious. Although whether this was a fault of the script or the directing I’m not sure.

They were some good moments in this play, the scene that demonstrated the vice that had gripped Dorian showed real imagination. Here strobe lighting, dancers, props and characters were used to great effect. However, the rest of the play never really allowed me to escape the confines of the Assembly rooms, and when the curtain came down and the lights came on even the cast weren’t smiling.

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Helen Catt

at 12:30 on 2nd Mar 2012

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There were shaky moments in Dorian Gray, particularly through the first half. However, although not as slick as I had hoped, the good thing about this play is that as long as the cast perform proficiently, emotional depth and character will be supplied by the audience from their own acquaintance with the intricate characters of the book. As per the nature of the text, the play was dominated by the unholy trinity; Dorian, Lord Henry and Basil (played respectively by Charley Warner, George William Sturley and Dave Spencer), and nicely backed up by the rest of the cast.

Dorian was chilling – the descent from a merely unpleasant boy towards pure evil was slow and sinister. However, in the first couple of scenes he lacked innocence – he was arrogant and vain from the very beginning. We never see the beauty of his character that first drew Basil towards him and drove Lord Henry to corrupt him. The result was terrifying and terrifically rendered, but without the innocence with which to compare it, it lost some of its power.

Sturley didn't perform to his potential, unfortunately. Whether it was first night nerves or not enough rehearsal time, drawn out pauses seemed to suggest that the lines weren't coming quite as easily as they should. This was a pity – I suspect he was easily capable of playing the part. However, the initial few stumbles seemed to knock his confidence and he never really recovered. Sturley, with the rest of the ensemble, did well not to let this damage the production as a whole. I expect that his performance will improve through Dorian's run as he gains in confidence.

The star of the performance was Spencer's Basil. He acted sensitively; during the vignette of hedonistic depravity (gorgeously choreographed), he constantly drew the eye with his subtle reactions to Dorian's cruelty. He was genuinely moving in his moments of quiet hopelessness and believable in his desperate pleas.

The idea of taking an old play and adding modern elements is a well-trodden path. For the most part, the modern music worked well. However, it was occasionally distracting. I found Eurythmics' 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)' particularly jarring; judging by the giggles of the rest of the audience, I think they did too.

The lighting was impressively subtle and effective. There always seems to be a temptation for Technical Directors to flood the stage with red lighting whenever a mortal crime is about to be committed. Andy Mathieson didn't give in to this temptation, but rather gave an almost ironic nod towards the trope – the lighting was red when Dorian was enticing a nicely tortured Alan Campbell, but subtly so. The silhouetted portrayal of the two pivotal scenes was fantastically pulled off, and the dimmer silhouette in the background of other scenes served as a boding reminder of Dorian's wickedness. I can't decide upon my opinion about the decision to show the picture. At times, I think I would rather not have seen it. However, as the final tableau continues to haunt me, I think perhaps it was the right decision.

Just as Dorian Gray's beauty is both a blessing and a curse, so the complexity of the original text is both the production's greatest strength and weakness. Even the most professional of companies would struggle to convey the depth of the original characters. Wilde aficionados will enjoy this production despite its occasional shakiness and awkward pacing (and enjoy spotting snippets of dialogue from his other plays), but only if they know the book well enough to fill in the gaps. The play essentially provides a blank canvas for the audience. The cast provide sketches of the characters – gorgeously drawn, evocative sketches, but sketches nonetheless. This is not a great introduction, but rather a nice reminder of the story of Dorian Gray with some decent acting and stagecraft thrown in.

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