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Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray at the Palace Theatre begins with a sparse set of distressed walls and decayed decor, and we go straight into dialogue that's, of course, Oscar Wilde - so it's peppy, zingy and immediately compelling. So far, so (dare I say it) standard - but what happens over the course of this production from Tilted Wig stretches far from standard, and segues brilliantly into a piece of haunting, horror-tinged, highly contemporary theatre.
The story is a supernatural classic - a beautiful young man has his portrait painted, and he wishes to stay that young forever. As he goes on in life remaining youthful and beautiful, the painting grows foul and rotten; but at a great cost to his morals. It's the ultimate 'sell your soul' story.
Gavin Fowler's Dorian Gray begins the play shy, unburdened by life, almost embarrassed with himself and by his looks. As the story goes on, Fowler plays him as a total brute - selfish, hedonistic, and eventually truly evil. The transformation of his character is nuanced - it's a steady changing of stature and voice. He is played exceptionally well, bringing heartlessness and eventually turmoil with great vigour.
Dorian's painter, Basil, and his best friend, the boorish Harry, are also well drawn by Daniel Goode and Jonathan Wrather (the latter getting the lion's share of stunning Wildean quips). Wilde's novel had a very poor reception when it came out because of its homosexual undertones but now, in 2019, the queer subtext is portrayed well. We understand that Basil adores the young, sweet Dorian - and fears his adoration for the boy within the painting will be seen by the wider world, and we know that this was a time when homosexuality was illegal. Harry too is visibly intrigued by Dorian and there is an attraction there. He seems a plaything for these two men, and in a brilliant scene between Dorian and Harry's wife (special mention for this langurous portrayal by Phoebe Pryce), she seems very knowing of their chemistry here too.
Harry leads Dorian into a world of hedonism and pure indulgence, and this is where the play takes on its shift into a contemporary piece of theatre. I wasn't expecting a slow-motion dance sequence with modern electronica music pulsating with beats to nightclub lighting to denote an orgy, but its effect in what is a rather classic Victorian play was staggering. Here we see the undoing of Dorian, and from then on the play takes on a horror-like theme. The music was excellently done and reminiscent of the groaning, eerie score from Twin Peaks. There was even a scene that reminded me of the crime series Dexter as Dorian's life spins out of control.
This was a very modern take on a compelling, supernatural, eerie story and I wholeheartedly recommend that you go and see it.
The Picture of Dorian Gray from Tilted Wig Productions is showing at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 16 March. Go to https://southendtheatres.org.uk to book your tickets.