Digital theatre review: The Picture of Dorian Gray
James R | On 25, Mar 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray, but with social media. That’s the hook behind this new online theatre adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel, which brings the tale of superficial perfection and inner ugliness into the modern age.
The premise may sound heavy-handed or obvious, but that’s only because it really is a smart fit – where else could Wilde’s fin de siècle tale of sin, decadence, art and appearances make more sense than in today’s era of selfie-obsessed, digital personas and unspoken mental health issues?
The play begins as influencer Dorian makes a deal wit Basil (Russell Tovey) so that his social star will never fade – a filter-proof alter-ego that blurs the boundary between his online and actual self. But his private misdeeds – from drugs to hooking up with naive digital newbies – take their toll on his offline appearance, and the moments when his flawless facade slips into the dark, twisted reality are genuinely disturbing.
Fionn Whitehead is excellent as Dorian, managing to be at once charismatic and sinister, while the supporting cast is wonderfully star-studded, from Joanna Lumley as the swooning socialite Lady Narborough and Tovey’s earnest Basil and Stephen Fry’s calm interviewer. The latter is the glue holding the ensemble together, as Henry Filloux-Bennett’s script structures the plot into a string of talking head interviews – a format that recalls last year’s impressive What a Carve Up!, made by the same team, and gives this a murder-mystery vibe. (The show is stolen by Alfred Enoch as Henry, who raises questions of sexuality with an explicit honesty that fits modern society.)
Director Tamara Harvey blends the footage together wonderfully, framing performances by Sibyl Vane (Emma McDonald) as Instagram stories featuring bursts of Shakespeare, intercutting sequences with on-screen text and using lighting and costume to convey character without exposition. The spectre of the coronavirus pandemic looms in the background too, explicitly referred to with amusing jokes about NT Live but also incorporated into the way Dorian wears a mask to hide his face.
The result is inventive and engaging, presented online until 31st March as a co-production between the Barn Theatre in Cirencester, the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, the Lighthouse Theatre in Kettering, the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, the Oxford Playhouse in Oxfordshire and Theatr Clwyd in Mold. How fitting that they have found a fresh way to present this Wildean tale through technology.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is available to rent for £12 until 31st March 2021 at www.pictureofdoriangray.com