Review: Simon Stephens' poetic and pregnant Herons, Lyric Hammersmith
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Review: The problematic Picture of Dorian Gray, Trafalgar Studios 2

The Picture of Dorian Gray. Production images 2014. Courtesy Emily Hyland - 25
Guy Warren-Thomas as Dorian Gray. Photo: Emily Hyland

I've never read Oscar Wilde's novel on which this play is based but I've seen plenty of portrayals on screen of the beautiful youth who trades his soul to stay ever young, most recently Reeve Carney in Penny Dreadful.

The book caused scandal at the time it was published for its homoerotic undertones despite Wilde having toned it down prior to publication. Working with Wilde's grandson Merlin Holland, John O'Connor has restored some of the bits deemed too racy for the Victorian audience but it still seems pretty tame by 21st century standards.

Guy Warren-Thomas plays the chiselled-jawed youth Dorian whom artist Basil Hallward (Rupert Mason) falls in love with while he paints his portrait. It is deemed to be his best work something Basil credits Dorian with.  However, the youth is fickle and self-obsessed, the portrait serving to show that day by day he gets older; he'll never be as young as he is in the painting. So, he makes a wish that it will be the portrait that ages not him.

He lives a hedonistic lifestyle with a youthful vigour, falling in and out of love with sometimes tragic consequences and all the while his sins are reflected in the portrait, now hidden beneath a cloth in the attic. And I obsessed about that portrait. It was just a frame, very occasionally Warren-Thomas would step into it tableau-style, but it became a powerful symbol even though it was covered most of the time. I knew it was just a frame and yet I wanted someone to rip off the cloth to see the hideous corrupted image beneath that reflected Dorian's sins.

Oscar Wilde said that three of the characters in the novel reflected different sides of himself. Basil is who he thought he was, Dorian who he wanted to be and Lord Henry (John Gorick) who guides and encourages Dorian is how people viewed him. It is Lord Henry who has the epigrams we most associate with Wilde and there is a great deal of pleasure in hearing them.

My reservations about the play comes in just having a cast of four. Only Warren-Thomas plays one character and the rest - Helen Keeley takes on a lot of the female roles - do lightning costume changes to play a myriad of other characters. Sometimes an actor will leave the stage as a man and return moments later with a bonnet to play a woman and it doesn't quite work. A woman did get a fit of the giggles at one point when Mason was playing an old woman and there lies the problem, at times the changes are so rapid it teeters on the edge of farce. It mars an otherwise good production.

I'm giving The Picture of Dorian Gray three stars, it is around two hours and 15 minutes including an interval, and is at the Trafalgar Studios 2 until February 13.