Victorian Vices - The Picture of Dorian Gray

Fri 1st – Sat 23rd August 2014

reviews

Ben Hickey

at 10:04 on 12th Aug 2014

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This piece of promenade theatre, during which the audience were cast as members of London’s high society during the last days of the Victorian era, was certainly not short of bombast and posturing. This ought to have made for an excellent musical, filled with all the flair and intrigue of the original story. However, the concept of promenade theatre is perhaps not exploited as much as it could have been, while the musical format prevents the performance from exploring the subtler aspects of Dorian Gray’s tortured character.

The promenade theatre is most successful during an impressive opening sequence in which the audience are swept up and engaged by the milling socialites of Oscar Wilde’s world. Watching a modest crowd react with suspicion to sordid types such as Jonathan Parsonage’s leering Henry Wotton is surely what director Dave Spencer intended, to provoke his onlookers into reacting with distrust and mild horror at the vulgarity of the characters before them.

While it is admittedly difficult to maintain such an intimate audience connection and simultaneously deliver a performance to that audience, you cannot help but feel the distance between cast and audience widen as the play progresses. By the end you get the impression that the various ‘loose women’ are threading their way through the audience during numbers purely for the sake of doing so. Certain opportunities for the audience to get involved again, such as a scene in which Dorian Gray visits the theatre, are missed.

Some of the lyrics in the songs get snorts of derision from the audience but to make too much of this would be unfair; they are generally enjoyable spectacles and help to coax the plot along. Sadly, something which undermines the play to a large extent is Mike Yates’ portrayal of Gray, perhaps harmed by watching too much of Jack Gleeson’s King Joffrey in Game of Thrones. Yates stops short of making us horrified by his character and instead merely annoys us by it. A word must be said, however, for the skillful way in which Ryan Harding gradually steers his Basil Hallward from hopeful naivety to the depths of despair.

The pomposity and elegance of Wilde’s novel certainly meet the demands of promenade theatre and the musical genre, but the production doesn’t allow for the nuances of Gray’s character to fully reveal themselves. With a little more ingenuity, however, this is a company whose craft will surely catch up to their brave ideas before long.

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Rachel Mfon

at 11:09 on 12th Aug 2014

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Victorian Vices presented The Picture of Dorian Gray completely in tact and in pristine condition.While the classic tale rebuked the passing of time and beauty, the choices of director Dave Spencer reminded us of the play's timeless beauty by delivering it with a fresh yet poignant perspective.

Performed as promenade theatre, the piece kept us on our toes instead of at the edge of our seats. The constant movement made each scene come alive with the explosive energy you would expect to see at the very start of a show. Those who had requested to stay seated beforehand found themselves fidgeting and itching to move about with the cast. The breaking of the fourth wall filled the whole room with an electric atmosphere that charged the audience just as much as the performers.

The high level of activity was complimented by boisterous music, composed by Jo Turner. The ensemble slipped seamlessly into song and dance without disrupting the scenes fluidity or compromising our understanding of the piece. The live band made their presence known but the cast performed as a strong chorus, never fading into the shadows of the instrumentalists. There was power even in the tenderness of the early solos by Mike Yates (as Dorian Gray) and Ryan Harding (as Basil). The odd cracking in their voices communicated the truthful weakness of their youthful characters.

The entire performance was matched with Dorian Gray as his character moves from light to dark. The charming nature of the our interaction with the performers was jolted by a sudden vulgarity. From being gently kissed on the hand to being thrusted against, the audience were not let off lightly. We were thrown into the piece whether we like it or not. To predict what might happen next was something I tried and failed to do throughout, keeping me alert and responsive (well, I had to be to avoid being thrusted upon a second time).

I must admit that the progressively crude language and the lap dance included in the production was not enough to make me uncomfortable. People of all ages were sharing little giggles and awkward glances, equally embarrassed and entertained. What was unsettling was the decline of Dorian Gray. Yates lost all charm as the livid red lighting marked a change in his character. Moving through the audience with his head sunken into his chest and tongue loosely hanging from his mouth, Yates quite convincingly appeared to have lost his mind and soul. The vacancy in his eyes made his performance difficult to watch, making us forget how we swooned over him in the play's opening.

As we fell out of love with Yates' character, we fell into a deeper love affair with Dave Spencer's directorial decision making. The convincing cast was well polished and worked well alongside the music. Spencer left us with a piece that was both moving and unnerving.

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