Although Oscar Wilde wrote many plays, The Picture of Dorian Gray was his only novel; this stage adaptation of it, at St. Hilda’s Jacqueline du Pre Music Auditorium, should be praised for its restoration of dialogue from Wilde’s original, unedited manuscript.
Wilde’s words are perhaps tied for the strongest element of this adaptation with the robust central performance of Jack Doyle, as Dorian Gray himself, but St. Hilda’s College Drama Society’s production is let down by uninspired and sometimes ineffective blocking, poor acoustics and a lack of directorial ambition. Doyle is thoroughly believable as Dorian in both looks and air, often irresistible and innocent, though increasingly abhorrent. They shine best when we catch the little glimpses of oncoming wickedness, and their performance is well able to handle the play’s mounting darkness.
Charlotte Pawley, as Henry Wotton, has nearly all the best lines but several were unfortunately eaten up by the sounds of the actors’ feet on the stage; from the first scene, it was apparent that this was going to be a problem, though if some had projected better it might’ve been a smaller one. This, coupled with the groaning of tables and chairs being moved (perhaps unnecessarily – could a more efficient set have been devised?) during scene changes made for an atmosphere a little reminiscent of a school play.
Basil Hallward, played by Callum Luckett, spent much of the first scene blocked by the titular painting; Luckett’s Basil was, rather ironically, a good ‘straight’ man to Pawley, but it fell to the text itself rather than anything else to convey the pathetic emotion and pining of his situation. It was the lack of risk-taking in the direction which let the production down more than anything; the scene when the men observed Sibyl’s acting was well done, but most of the other scenes were played rather straight – there’s that word again, straight, which really shouldn’t have to be used when it comes to this story.
The plot came across well enough, and the degradation of the painting was satisfying to witness, but I was left wishing that the eeriness had been conveyed with more innovation and power; the lighting and sound design, for example, could have been more complex. It was, altogether, small things that rankled: points were routinely expressed while standing up for emphasis, followed by immediate sitting down for no reason, like clockwork; the Vane siblings’ outfits broke the attempt made at realism in other costumes, and the scenes, particularly in the first half, felt rather static.
However, the fact that this was a livestreamed performance is commendable and it should be considered for more shows where possible; the accessibility of theatre should be at the forefront of our priorities. Doyle will likely be the ideal Dorian for me for quite a while to come (the glinting smile! the soft voice!) and it shall be their performance which I shall choose to remember.