Writer: Oscar Wilde
Director/Adaptor: Dave Spencer
Composer: Jo Turner
Musical Director: Isaac Lusher
Reviewer: Scott Stait
Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is a classic illustration of the aestheticism of Victorian England. ‘Art for art’s sake’ remains a maxim of this movement and much in the same style, Another Soup present their musical adaptation of Wilde’s decadent novel in the confines of the Kings Head Theatre, as a “Brechtian immersion” is promised.
Both novel and musical depict the life of a hedonistic aristocrat, Dorian, who in the opening scene sees a portrait of himself painted by friend Basil. A fine artist, Basil has painted the “finest portrait of modern times” according to Lord Henry Wotton, a scandalously amoral member of the aristocracy. The painting, however, troubles Dorian, who believes too much of a likeness has been depicted; he curses that the portrait will remain youthful as he himself grows old and withered. In a Faustian moment of greed and narcissism, Dorian pledges his soul to the artwork, that it should carry the burden of age and infamy, allowing him to stay eternally young.
Dave Spencer’s adaptation stays truthful to the story, albeit with a few artistic diversions, but nonetheless the arc of the narrative is played out with devastating finale. The theatre at the Kings Head provides a perfect feeding ground for the debaucheries of the production, however shoehorning into the set of Trainspotting [which had just finished] with a few choice set pieces added gave the effect that we were had turned up in the wrong theatre. Spencer uses the space well, and the actors engage with the audience to add to the fully immersive experience.
Thomas Judd and Blair Robertson shine among the ensemble cast of characters as Henry Wotton and Basil Hallward respectively. Their poise and command of the space carries the production and their comic scenes and ad lib with the audience lighten the evening’s depravity. Samuel Woodhams’ Dorian begins in good stead as an impressionable youth, emotionless and reserved, ready for the morals of Henry to fill his very being. This restrained attitude, however, continues throughout the evening with little development of the character, and as such makes his depiction of Dorian little more than a wooden adolescent.
As a musical, the production doesn’t particularly flow. The rather forgettable score (Jo Turner) is ably played by Felicity Sparks on piano, accompanied by a questionable violinist whose tone and technique consistently jarrs on the ear.As individuals the company aren’t particularly strong vocally but the chorus numbers manage to fill the small theatre and find some merit in an otherwise unnecessary collection of musical numbers.
There is much to be commended here, and Another Soup’s determination to forgo the much used site-specific trend of late in way of a more immersive theatrical experience comes off well. They still have a long way to go to create a substantially satisfying piece, even if the style is right on the mark.
Runs until 12th April