first night

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Sophie Wright discovers the secret of eternal youth with Fourth Wall Theatre's latest production.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is infamous for its blend of Oscar Wilde’s callous wit and pointed humour, blended with what essentially amounts to a horror story. Dorian Gray, enticed into corruption by Henry Wotton, has a personal portrait that reflects the terrible things Gray does. In return, Gray’s physical self shows no ageing. As an adaptation, there are an awful lot of philosophical musings on the nature of morality and vanity to fit into one play, and from the outset, Fourth Wall Theatre’s production felt ambitious. A context change to the lives of contemporary rich Londoners was an inspired idea, and director Katie O’Toole should be commended for imaginative ingenuity. However, it felt as though the show did not reach all its promised potential.

The production itself was solidly commendable. The set initially came across as perfectly suited; the paintings on the wall, the large easel, everything appeared necessary in creating the right sense of space. In particular, the mirrors lining the back wall were very atmospheric, with their true relevance revealed stunningly at the end. However, as the play wore on, some downsides shone through. One example was the first section of the play – from where I was sitting, it became very difficult to see the expressions of all three actors on stage, crammed into the corner of the apron along with the easel. I was also slightly disappointed that nothing in the set, nor the costumes, particularly suggested 21st century London. I occasionally forgot the specific context the production was striving to achieve, particularly as nothing aside from Barnabas Mercer’s phone at the very beginning struck me as definitively modern. Another downside that potentially undermined the production was the lacking sense of time passing. There were no costume changes, make up modifications, or acting decisions that emphasised the decades that eventually passed. As it is such an integral part of understanding The Picture of Dorian Gray as a whole, this was slightly frustrating as an audience member. Nonetheless, on the whole the production did not suffer too greatly, and I was still able to enjoy the show.

The acting, on the whole, was entertaining. The cast were a great ensemble and should be proud of their achievements. Sarah Cameron as Dorian Gray was inspired casting, and she managed the dichotomy between wide-eyed innocence and corrupted nonchalance perfectly. The slide between the two was, perhaps, jarring, and again at the end when the regret began to set in – although that may be fault of the script. I initially thought the character of Dorian was going to be made female, but the fact that Cameron played Dorian as a man was absolutely a non-issue and I was entranced enough by her performance that I believed it. Personally, the two standouts of the show were Hamish Lloyd Barnes and Claire Forster. Forster had perfect physicality in the two roles she played, both so distinct and yet equally comedic, she stole the scenes she was in. Lloyd Barnes was brilliantly suited as being cast as Basil Hallward: the nervousness, the hand wringing, and the romantic undertones he was able to set aside for moments of genuine friendship were all excellently executed. Barnabas Mercer as Henry Wotton was commendable. Unfortunately, given that all his lines were witty remarks in perfect Wilde fashion, it was very difficult to focus on his comparatively large chunks of dialogue, given that his delivery was very similar across the board.

The lighting was very astute and appropriate. Technical director Emily Hicks’ use of the LEDs in particular helped provide certain ‘indoor’ scenes with time, tone and atmosphere. One inspired use was a yellow light reflecting off a mirror, like the sun shining through a window. The sound, too, contributed to atmosphere in a new way – although the addition of sound during certain scenes was slightly distracting from the action on stage. Also, some blackouts were particularly long, breaking up action in an emotion-breaking manner (notably in the scenes where Dorian was particularly paranoid about James Vane). On the whole, however, technical decisions were executed admirably, and the crew should be proud.

Despite the sense of frustration that the production’s ambition was not successfully realised, the cast and crew have created something worth witnessing. For fans of Oscar Wilde and morality stories about the degradation of humanity, The Picture of Dorian Gray will be a suitable antidote to summative deadlines and the impending holiday break.

16 March 2017

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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