Writer and Director: Linnie Reedman
Music / Lyrics: Joe Evans
Published ten years before his untimely death, Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray has been adapted for stage and screen, many times over. A story of youth, greed, infatuation and scandal – it’s not hard to see why Dorian has lost none of his allure.
Originally designed for the stage, Dorian – A Rock Musical has found a second life with an online recording after being closed by the pandemic. Dorian shifts the 19th century tale into the 21st. Almost wondering into rock opera, this wordy, atmospheric musical takes the dark, gothic notes of Wilde’s book, and creates a world that would be recognisable to its author.
Dorian Gray – a young, beautiful musician – sits alone in his room. Dressed in silk and pearls (giving us Harry Style vibes), Gray’s social advancement is hampered by his illegitimacy, meaning his only way forward is to embrace his notoriety. He decides to explore the avant-garde: music, art, drama. As he begins to make his mark, Dorian ponders his desire to understand the nature of love. In The Ultimate Sensation Gray considers what will yield him the greatest reward. Man, woman, art or artifice.
At a party, he meets Basil Hallward (an impressive Lewis Rae), a painter about to unveil his latest work. There is an instant, electric connection between the two, and Basil insists on painting Dorian’s portrait. The spark between them is brought into question when Hallward’s friend, Lord Henry (John Addison) arrives at the studio. Handsome, charismatic and influential – Lord Henry quickly becomes a rival for Dorian’s affection.
When Gray views his portrait, he is dejected. His painted image will remain forever young and radiant. In a petulant fit, Gray wishes that the painting would age while his looks remain. In Act II, we return to Gray, 10 years on. Lord Henry’s contact list has worked its magic. Dorian is a rock star, with an army of followers. But despite a decade having passed, Dorian hasn’t aged a day.
As Dorian, Bart Lambert layers music references, from Robert Smith’s kohl-rimmed eyes, to Rufus Wainwright’s languid, searching Want One era. This is a Dorian Gray not destined to circulate at parties, but full of real potential. Lambert’s powerful voice soars as Dorian’s complex character begins to emerge. The music and lyrics by Joe Evans really capture a Wildean spirit – Evans even incorporates some of Oscar’s epigrams into the songlist. The lyrics are witty and well-observed, with Evans’ understanding of Wilde’s biography shining through. While this is not big budget theatre, the essence of Wilde’s novel – decadent, naughty and thoroughly amoral – comes across loud and clear in Dorian.
In this musical, Wilde’s rumination on fame, beauty and everything in-between, feels fresh to the touch. Director and writer Linnie Reedman’s transposition of Wilde is handled with care and sophistication. Love is experienced freely, without constraint or regret. A morality tale, where the usual perimeters have been removed. Dorian suggests – and not unreasonably – that Gray’s ageless quality was never to be found in the mirror.
Available here until 12 August 2021