Adaptor/Director: Neil Bartlett
Reviewer: Alan Foran
“But the bravest among us is afraid of himself”, Lord Henry tells Dorian Grey. Of course, Dorian has every reason to be afraid. The core of the story revolves around the simple idea, voiced by Grey himself, that he will grow old, while the picture will stay young; but what if it was the other way around?
Oscar Wilde’s story of Dorian Grey’s uncanny ability to stay young and beautiful while descending into the debauchery of turn of the century London is one that still captures the imagination. There was the recent Dorian Grey film, and he even turned up as a character inThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and now in this Abbey Commissioned play, written and directed by Neil Bartlett, the story is retold, using the words from the original book to enliven it.
Both Lord Henry, played with the required Wilde wit, and excellent timing, by Jasper Britton, works very well against Tom Canton’s great interpretation of Dorian Grey, bringing the character from the opening to the final conclusion with skill and control. This adds to the production’s atmosphere, which is instilled from the very beginning: a feeling of people watching, looking on, is brought to life by having the main action occur in the centre of the stage, well lit, while the edges appear a place where the company linger, giving it all a claustrophobic feel.
Modern microphones are dotted around the stage, with one centre stage front, through which the company and characters can alternatively address the action on stage, or the audience. It also has the effect of contrasting the voices: stronger and louder than in the rest of the piece. This device works well in some parts, particularly the second act, and not so well in others. However, there are other wonderful theatrical touches on display that balance this off.
The set, which is hidden behind the traditional red curtain until the play begins, is sparse, looking like an old collection of odd pieces of furniture in an attic. Designed by Kandis Cook, it works well with the production, becoming more sparse as the evening progresses. The costumes, again by Cook are perfect, from the Victorian look into the 1920s Charleston look as time moves on. Atmospheric lighting adds an air of mystery to proceedings in a fantastic lighting design by Chris Davey.
This is a modern take on a classic, timeless tale, although a rare couple of times the language breaks into modern turns of phrases which came across as jarring. Overall though, this is a production that does move as a whole: company, set, atmosphere, combining to tell the tale in a way that steadily builds up to the impending doom.
Everything is held together, with a steady hand, maintaining the reality of things, while taking a few liberties. By the wholly satisfying ending, the journey is indeed worth the taking, and that journey is on many levels. You won’t leave the theatre unmoved or unthinking. The main reason for this is the keeping of Wilde’s original language, the wonderful core idea and bringing it to life in this atmospheric production without ever letting it go off the rails.
Photo Ros Kavanagh
Runs until 17 November