Dublin Theatre Festival | The Picture of Dorian Gray | Abbey Theatre
Star Rating: 3.5/5
Review by: Caomhan Keane
Venue: The Abbey Theatre
Directed and Adapted by: Neil Bartlet
Cast: Jane Brennan, Jasper Britton, Gerard Byrne, Tom Canton, Aaron Heffernan, Emmet Kirwan, Andrew Macklin, Charlotte McCurry, Frank McCusker, Lise Ann McLaughlin, Bairbre Ní Chaoimh, Kate O'Toole, Michael Sheehan, Ali White and Susannah de Wrixon
After the publication of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde said that "there was much of me in that strange coloured book of mine. Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks I am: Dorian what I would like to be." Director Neil Bartlett has made this sense of confession explicit in his adaptation, presenting the Gothic tale as a kind of tawdry vaudeville with post dramatic leanings, where characters speak their mind directly to the audience via the microphone centre stage- which is stripped back to the bare walls of the theatre, with plush red curtains and the bulbed outline of a vanity mirror.
We watch on as Dorian reflects back at us our deepest, darkest desires. A Greek chorus mouth the inner most concerns of the characters while servants, Mrs Leaf and Francis, pass comment on his mood and movement, like talking heads on a crime show recreation. It's beautiful to look at and successfully springs the baleful seeds of the original story, that so outraged Victorian society, to full bloom showing just how antiquated the frilly artifact's exhumed annually by other theatres can be.
The idle, almost repetitive, natter of the first night faces decked out in Kandis Cook's delectable designs, attending shows almost twenty years a part, successfully skewers the dilettantes of Wilde's day and ours, posing larger questions about society's role in decreasing standards in morals and art. While the regular refrain of the paternoster, the heavy breath of the subconscious and the shadowy presence of the ensemble builds the tension to Tell-Tale Heart proportions.
It suffers, however, in how faithfully it renders Dorian's soullessness. There just isn't a human pulse, a heart beating beneath the floorboards of the production’s aesthetic. Tom Canton in his professional debut convinces but seems to have been directed to erase all the essential charm from the character. He’s less wicked, more hysterical and his change from unselfconscious youth to disassociated psychopath is damaged by this call.
Jasper Britton’s Lord Henry, to whom Dorian is a padawan, gets caught up in the silky tone of his own voice, possessing the allure of a villain but none of the interest or sense of life experience. He has the shows finest bon mots yet they seem to rise from nowhere and hang, like a red flag to waiting bulls, gagging for a giggle. Frank McCusker, however, as Basil - who paints the titled portrait and for whom Dorian is oh so much more than a muse, is perfect. Devastating within his longing restraint.
There is a wonderful modernity to this production-which alludes to, but doesn’t harp on about, gay shame, societal pressure and collusion and most thrillingly, the relationship between art and those that bear witness to it. There’s also a terrific nod to Hammer Horror in the reveal.
But the ingenuity that sets this production apart from other adaptations of Wilde’s work also makes it overtly theatrical and shallow, with no real sense of the human relationships between the characters coming through in the more traditionaly presented scenes.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Tuesday 9th October 2012 | Theatre
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