Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Dorian Gray at the Kings Head Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Dorian Gray at the Kings Head Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Dorian Gray at the Kings Head Theatre
post-template-default,single,single-post,postid-19401,single-format-standard,tribe-no-js,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-4.2.1,vc_responsive

28 Mar REVIEW: Dorian Gray at the Kings Head Theatre

125 years after the novel was originally published, and seven months after an acclaimed debut at the Edinburgh festival, Another Soup’s immersive musical vision of Dorian Gray is being staged at the King’s Head Theatre. A masterpiece of controversy from Oscar Wilde, it centres on young gentleman Dorian, the image of physical perfection and muse to painter Basil Hallward, who doesn’t so much study his face, as kneel at the altar of his beauty.

Under the watchful eye of friend and would-be mentor Lord Henry (Harry) Wotton, Dorian sets out to explore beauty and sensuality, embarking on an aggressive campaign of unadulterated hedonism, with Wotton’s yellow book, A Rebours, as his guide. With his deepening moral corruption etched onto the face of Basil’s portrait instead of his skin, Dorian’s pursuit of pleasure eventually leads him as much to the grimy opium dens of the East End underworld as to the luxurious theatres and gentleman’s clubs of the West End, as he seeks ever more exotic and exquisite sensations – at any cost.

This London of Wilde’s novel is just saturated with sumptuous detail, bolstering his intelligently constructed arguments with a trademark sharp wit and cutting humour. Just as Wilde’s way with words is what makes his novel so enthralling, his words really are the pinnacle of this production, pulled off the page and allowed to shine through a perfectly pitched performance from Thomas Judd, as Harry.

Judd’s equally strong vocal performance puts weight behind perhaps the biggest surprise of all: contrary to initial misgivings, Dorian Gray can work as a musical. Serving as a powerful medium through which to convey ideas, Jo Turner’s memorable songs fit with the production and further both the plot and the comprehension of motives, though having such a small cast makes it difficult to produce meaningful harmonies – it would be great to see “Victorian Vices” sung by a cast of a dozen, and a more substantial cast would lend itself to some choreography to liven up the really rather flat visuals. On the point of visual impact, with a clear focus on the pursuit of pleasure, and in particular gratification derived from beauty, it seems strange for the adaptation to be presented on the unaltered set of Trainspotting, one that’s so deliberately disgusting and directly at odds with Dorian’s usually opulent surroundings, furnished to the epitome of taste and fashion. Of course practical and budgetary restraints are at least in part responsible, but some faux-velvet drapes would go a long way for little cost.

The scene is even more critical in immersive theatre, as you apparently experience the plot along with the characters, so it’s hard to feel immersed in a world of high society pleasure and excess when you’re surrounded by the crumbling, graffiti’ed walls of a Glasgow hovel. But the setting isn’t the only way Dorian Gray feels a touch underwhelming from the immersion perspective; I thought I would find – wanted to find – a frenzy of hedonistic debauchery inside the auditorium, to experience some of the thrills that Dorian so desperately seeks, and to see, and feel, the sense of the moral corruption that he’s so oblivious to. I wanted it to be raunchy, close to the line – not indecent – but to have a certain sexual frisson. And that is notable only in its absence – even at times that you’d definitely expect it. Without any of this, the production just feels a bit flat, and the question that remains is why make it immersive?

Further carving out the chasm where “impact” should have been, despite Sam Woodham’s definite ability to set pulses racing, his mild and timid Dorian is a far cry from the cocksure seduction artist of Wilde’s novel. With the effect that he’s said to have on women and men alike, I should have lusted after him as I watched him grow from an impressionable young man into a powerful master of manipulation, but experienced neither the lust nor the character development, despite reliably being a sucker for that kind of nonsense. But the difficulties with Dorian’s characterisation run deeper than this; his whirlwind romance with Sibyl is cut far too short for such an important junction in the plot, failing to appreciate the sequence of decisions he makes that mark his movement away from thinking with moral intention towards degradation, a transition that steers him off on an inexorable path to self-destruction.

Despite the fact that this production of a novel, initially banned for being so lewd, is nowhere near as shocking or extreme as it could have been, Dorian Gray goes to prove that complex ideas can and do work on stage, and in musical form. Boasting a refreshingly strong emphasis on the homoerotic overtones clearly evident in the novel, and a brilliant prologue discussing the continued relevance of the story, Wilde’s most glorious writing stands the test of time without a blemish, as it’s brought to life on stage. Here’s hoping there isn’t a manuscript somewhere, silently withering and decaying.

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here

Venue: The Kings Head Theatre
Dates: 22 March – 12 April 2015
For tickets and information:!dorian-gray-kht/c1077
Social media: #DorianGrayKHT