Dorian: Son of Love and Death – The Other Palace Studio, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Music and Lyrics: Joe Evans

Writer and Director: Linnie Reedman

The best thing about this musical update of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is how faithful it is to the original story. Dorian is now a pop star, Henry Wotton is his manager and Basil a celebrity photographer. This 21st century setting seems right for the 1890 novel, but the rest of the show is not so successful and some of it could do with staying in the attic.

The songs by Joe Evans, despite the bluesy tones, are mostly forgettable and lack variation. When entering the elegant studio below The Other Palace, it appears that the music will be played live, as there is a keyboard and two guitars on the stage that is to become Henry’s recording studio. But alas, the instruments are merely props and the five actors have to sing along to a live keyboardist, hidden away, playing on top of a backing track, which, with its basic beats, sounds like someone has merely pressed the demo button on an early Yamaha.

Of course, budget restricts a larger live band, but Evans’s songs would be better served if the actors performed with a single pianist (no backing track), perhaps on stage, and with this stripped down sound, the tracks may become more recognisable as separate songs. Song For A Dead Girl is the only number that stands out, but that is perhaps more down to the fact that it’s repeated two or three times rather than any particular musical merit it might have.

As Dorian, Elliot Gooch certainly looks and acts the part. His Dorian is as languid and louche, spoiled and sensual, as Wilde’s. However, as the play continues writer Linnie Reedman suggests that Dorian is a victim as much as he is a perpetrator of immoral acts. Here, Dorian has been truly corrupted by Wotton. All these aspects about Dorian are apparent, but it seems unlikely that he would sing in that nasally Musical Theatre voice that is so common today. It’s not entirely Gooch’s fault either as the songs are packed with so many words and key changes it would make anyone breathless.

More steady are Harry Boyd as Henry Wotton and James Rockey as Basil Hallward. Chanice Alexander-Burnett is in good voice as Henry’s wife Victoria, although her character is mostly superfluous to the story. Ashley Goh is better as Fabian, a dancer in the 27 Club, than as Dorian’s paramour Sybil Vane. Fabian’s non-binary identity is a perfect revision for Wilde’s story.

Reedman also directs this short run at the Other Palace, and while the Studio is an ideal cabaret space the seating has no rake meaning that the final scenes played on the floor are lost to the back rows. She also places some action onto the balcony, which again can’t be viewed by one half of the audience who sits underneath it. But for the rest, Reedman uses the setting well.

A film of this musical was available in lockdown, and received good reviews, but this live version isn’t as sharp or as well sung. This portrait of the enduring anti-hero needs a few more brushstrokes and a little more finesse before it’s revealed to a bigger audience.

Runs until 6 November 2022

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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