Blue Devil Productions’ The Tragedy of Dorian Gray is an original reinterpretation of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel, which takes the hedonism and debauchery of Gray’s character, amplifies it, and spreads it across a cast of characters who are deliciously unlikeable. Written and directed by Ross Dinwiddy, this unique take on the memorable horror begins in London during the swinging sixties, and unveils a dark world of celebrity, corruption, drugs, alcohol, and scandals.
The play opens during an exhibition of the work of artist, Basil Hallward (Christopher Sherwood). The cynical and vulturous Mavis Ruxton (Heather Alexander) and Harry Wotton (Kace Monney) survey the room with wry amusement analysing where the best gossip will come from. Observing the shy and socially anxious Alan Campbell (Tom Taplin) is in attendance, the pair slither over where Mavis introduces Alan, who is soon beginning a new job presenting a family science show on the BBC, to Harry, who is very intrigued to find a new, and young, acquaintance.
The interaction gives the play a seedy feeling from the beginning, which is emphasised when Basil appears, seemingly even more out of place than Alan, even at his own party. Gossip columnist Mavis is delighted to see the return of Sybil Vane (Tara Clark) to London, who is considering a role at the Royal Court after her spectacular fall in Hollywood, owing to drug and alcohol use, particularly as rumours are circulating that the 31-year-old scandalous actress has recently married 21-year-old, Dorian Gray (Maximus Polling), a mysterious musician whom no one has seen. Harry’s cutting remarks about ageing begin with Sybil in this version, who becomes paranoid about her career quickly drying up as her beauty fades.
Mostly filmed in black and white, which creates a sense of nostalgia for the time, flashes of colour serve to illustrate Dorian’s point of no return and the full spectrum of sensations he is experiencing in his outrageous life. Dinwiddy has cleverly kept the picture of Dorian Gray permanently hidden from the audience, allowing the rapturous dialogue of the characters to create impressions of its perfection and increasing hideousness.
Dinwiddy’s script is excellent, featuring rich layers in each line of dialogue which creates multiple meanings almost every time a character speaks. Underhand desires and ulterior motives shine through the exceptional acting and create a real sense of the scandalous world the characters are inhabiting. Reminders of the illegality of homosexuality add a sense of time to the piece and increase the level of threat associated with these scandals.
Polling’s portrayal of Dorian is brilliant. There is something sinister in his characterisation from the very beginning when he approaches Basil to admire his work leading to Basil begging him to be painted. His ability to create the impression of Dorian making everyone blame themselves for his faults and take responsibility for his wicked actions is excellent and shows he is willing to do literally anything to get what he wants.
Clark presents a very different version of Sybil, one who has been clean for a year after a long struggle with substance abuse and has lost custody of her daughter, Hetty (also Clark). Her ability to show an exhausted former drug addict is fantastic and she creates a character who provokes feelings of both scorn and sympathy. Her chequered past enriches her ending and adds ambiguity to the events surrounding it allowing the opportunity for Dorian to shape the narrative around her.
Alexander’s portrayal is excellent with her snide tone always feeling threatening. Sherwood’s characterisation as the voice of reason is entrancing with Basil’s real feelings towards Dorian carefully held close to the surface in a delicate combination of reverence and disgust. Monney’s Harry, a character who is also wicked, is particularly underhand and the innocent Alan becomes an intricate and vulnerable portrayal of purity in Taplin’s capable hands.
The Tragedy of Dorian Gray is an amazing adaptation of a classic novel which truly adds new levels of meaning and horror to the story. Taking these characters and placing them centrally in the public eye allows Dinwiddy to create a piece where the characters have their private and public lives and explore the notion that people are more than the stories people tell about them. An excellent examination of debauchery and remorse, this is an amazing drama which puts a delightful spin on a beloved story.
The Tragedy of Dorian Gray is being streamed by Ukraine Fringe until 3rd September 2023 and is available to watch here https://www.scenesaver.co.uk/production/the-tragedy-of-dorian-gray/
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 29th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: