A new spin from Blue Devil Productions on the Oscar Wilde novel puts the story of Dorian Gray in the art, theatre and music world of the 1960s.
When Basil Hallward shows his pictures in an art gallery, he meets Dorian, twenty-one and married to talented actress Sybil Vane.
This is the catalyst for the famous sitting in which Henry Wootton (Kace Monney) develops his destructive obsession with the young Mr Gray, a Iago/Devilish, insidious influence which pitches the young man to destruction.
Filmed in black and white, this adaptation takes as much from Wilde as it can, but also pushes it into the space of modern depravity. Sybil Vane is a recovering drug addict. Basil is known for his disturbing artworks depicting young men.
Alan Campbell, conceptual artist and BBC presenter, is introduced early on, too, discussing the disintegration by acid of an elephant’s body. His latent homosexuality, just before decriminalisation, foreshadows his fall from grace.
Sybil, (played by Tara Clark), back on the booze and powder and crushed by bad reviews, leaves the stage without much lament. Painting her as an unfit mother blocked from seeing her child, this turn on the tale is particularly harsh.
Dorian, meanwhile, becomes a popular rock star, and a decade passes. His portrait, hidden away, changes as he does not. Publicly he is still charming to those around him, while goading Radio 1 and Mary Whitehouse.
The painting, therefore, brings on tragedy for both sitter and artist. Basil, whose interest in Dorian has been one of love, and Dorian, who sought the darkest path in pursuit of the gift of indefinite beauty and youth.
This is an excellent adaptation which does not seek to change too much about the source material, but it sticks a grubby fingernail into the canvas and twists into its cruel heart.
Positioning Dorian Gray as the queer classic it is, this version is harsh and uncompromising, but also celebrates difference and freedom. The performance of Maximus Polling as Dorian is excellent, moving from an impish curiosity to a cruel toughness.
As Basil, Christopher Sherwood plays the part as clearly of lower standing than Henry and Dorian, his talent placing him in the circles who applaud and revere his work. He, in turn, is nervous, repressed, and caring.
I always feel he has a bad deal no matter what the adaptation. Here his character is played well, even given a couple of new scenes perhaps guessed at before, but never shown. Campbell, too, has his character fleshed out and beautifully performed by Tom Taplin.
A final section with Sybil’s daughter turning detective in the late ’90s, to solve Basil’s disappearance and locate the painting is less powerful, but has interesting things to say about the influence of the press, public image, and how stories can become truly tangled.
Fringe review: *****
It is also showing live at the Rialto – book here.