Trafalgar Studios | ★★★☆☆
This year is the 125th anniversary of Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. When it was first published, its sexual ambiguity and frequent drug use caused outrage among Victorian society – but then, what didn’t? – and the text was hastily censored by the author.
This version, adapted by John O’Connor and Merlin Holland – Oscar Wilde’s only grandson – sets about restoring those subtleties and the play is far richer for it. Every flick of the hand, every smirk and every confession of “fondness” is laden with subtext. The casting reflects this, especially in the male characters, who are played with a joyful camp.
None more so than John Gorick’s Lord Henry Wotton, who even looks a lot like Oscar Wilde, with his mid-length brown locks. He almost sings his dialogue – a constant dance of witticisms and epigrams – adding a musical magnetism to a performance that can easily fall into caricature. Guy Warren-Thomas also looks the part as Dorian Gray, with his floppy blond locks and an expression that radiates innocence and youth, but he fails to convince us of the darkness in his soul in the second act.
Whether it’s due to budget constraints or an overly-ambitious script, there’s, this sparse production is a little too demanding for the cast of four, who are required to play a host of peripheral figures and perform an exhausting number of scene changes. Still, there’s no denying the power that still resides in Wilde’s uncensored words, and any excuse to see them on stage should be taken.