THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY Is Now Digital for the Modern World — Review
“You are only as good as your last pic.”
Those fateful words pingpong through Dorian Gray’s mind in this new, eerily enthralling, adaption of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel. Turned on its head for our digitally obsessed brains by writer Henry Filloux-Bennett, The Picture of Dorian Gray lives on in an imaginative new adaptation that brings the musings of Wilde right into modern day.
Co-produced by the Barn Theatre, Oxford Playhouse, Theatr Clwyd, Lawrence Batley Theatre, and the New Wolsey Theatre, it makes sense that the show’s team has secured some of Britain’s brightest talent to bring this production to life. Starting out in pseudo-interview documentary style, the performance immediately draws you in and has you hooked for the 90 minute thrill ride — much like Dorian, my eyes didn’t leave the screen once. Instead of the infamous portrait, tech genius Basil Hallward (the always charming Russell Tovey) has created a new filter of sorts for Dorian (the deliciously frightening Fionn Whitehead) where his youthful beauty will never fade. Throughout the show, interviews with socialite Lady Narborough (the exquisite Joanna Lumley) and the pompous Harry Wotton (the wonderful Alred Enoch) help guide us through the story. Emma McDonald as Sibyl Vane was an utterly perfect choice as Dorian’s lover who is enraptured by him.
Wilde originally published the novel in 1890, and it has since spawned numerous adaptations from films to theatrical productions worldwide. In Filloux-Bennett’s modern retelling, with innovative camerawork and editing, you feel dropped in the middle of the latest Black Mirror episode rather than a Victorian era novel – and it's frighteningly one of the most satisfying pieces of theatre I have had the pleasure of watching throughout the pandemic. The source material is deeply rooted in the gay canon of literature, and that rings true as ever in this new take. Dorian’s sexuality is top of mind as he is now on Grindr and “catfishing the first years;” the chemistry between him and both Basil and Harry is effervescent.
As we hit the one year anniversary of lockdown, I personally do not feel the need to sit through a performance where COVID is one of the main characters — but Filloux-Bennett finds the way to perfectly root the story in 2020 with ease. From Dorian streaming on Twitch and YouTube, to binging “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix, to delightful jabs at NT Live’s latest streaming option (wink, wink), the production’s commentary on the dangers of social media could not be any more relevant as we are trapped in our homes with little else to turn to. Much credit is due to director Tamara Harvey, who has quite successfully weaved the narrative in this new technological format. With montages of Snapchat and WhatsApp messages and incredibly moving speeches via security cameras, this Picture of Dorian Gray is wonderfully presented for our times. Tongue and cheek references from Dorian wearing a new Jack Wills t-shirt to him singing a song from Avenue Q help liven the mood as well. I was astonished at the quality of cinematography and editing that went into this piece — it is sure to rival the likes of any of Netflix’s latest pieces of content. Jared Zeus’ original music helped create the ghostly world quite beautifully.
Social media can be a terribly dangerous game, and The Picture of Dorian Gray brings that conceit to light in a rapidly moving thriller for today’s audiences. Perhaps it’s time we take a break from Instagram and all try to re-connect.
(5 Stars) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
"The Picture of Dorian Gray" is streaming through March 31. For tickets and more information, visit: www.pictureofdoriangray.com