Review: A Picture Of Dorian Gray

Art & Culture

Dorian Gray will never grow old. The character has long since stepped beyond the pages of Wilde’s masterpiece, ascending to a place of shared cultural memory; a modern deity in a secular world. Gray belongs to the dramatists now – he has been reused, recast, referred to and reviled time again. Now immersive theatre company The Alchemical Order are trying their hand at exposing the beauty and monstrosity of the 20th Century’s most enduring celebrity.   

Taking place in a grand Greenwich town house, this Picture of Dorian Gray has the audience drawn in close, sipping absinthe in Victorian parlours, peeking through lamp lit windows, huddling in smoke filled gin dives and creeping around Gray’s bedroom. The staging is remarkably fluid, with director (and actor) Samuel Orange emulating a cinematic experience, directing the audiences gaze with a series of clever reveals and shifts. Despite the total space used being fairly small, the performance never feels cramped, and there are some lovely moments of surprise – a rug rolling back to expose an unexpected window to lower levels; characters popping from hidden wall compartments – and this playfulness inherent in the staging well compliments Wilde’s sparkling dialogue.

This same playfulness runs through the production – the dark heart of the story is alleviated by musical numbers, bursts of dance choreography, and the presence of a uniquely Victorian Greek chorus in Victor and Mrs Leaf, the butler and maid, both giving a sparky performance that shifts from the erratically camp to the sinister.   

Naturally any production of Dorian Gray always struggles with one major issue – how do you cast a character with a supernatural beauty? When beauty is such a subjective notion it becomes impossible to fulfil the audience’s fantasies, one man’s meat being another’s murder. In this case, the problem is resolved by having Gray played by two actors (the split being revealed with a neat piece of stagecraft) – it became far easier to engage with Gray as a concept when he was so clearly being presented as a part in a play, rather than a definitive beauty.

I had one minor quibble – I can see how the prochronistic house music in the gin palace scene was an attempt to bring notions of time fluidity into play, but with the rest of the performance operating as a faithful period piece, it felt isolated and left me feeling jarred. Otherwise, however, the production was a treat; tightly scripted, adeptly delivered, and blessed with a lightning dynamic that made the evening fly by. With its diversions, its flourishes and its quick steps from light to shade, this Dorian Gray offered both an intriguing meditation on the power of artistic creation, and a wonderful night out.

A Picture of Dorian Gray runs at a secret Greenwich location until November 1st – tickets and more info available here