First time director, Jane Hughes, collaborates with writer, Nadia Bracegirdle, in a seamless adaption of Oscar Wilde’s infamous book on youth, sexuality and power, The Picture of Dorian Gray. The result is a smooth and delicious act one followed by a striking and elegant act two. From seconds into the show it screams sophistication and homosexuality, much to my delight for anything Wilde. The set and production value set a camp but elegant standard of luxury, and congratulations are to be given to Imogen King and the design team for their eye for detail.
The swift introduction of the shy, inexperienced Dorian Gray helps seduce you into admiring the soon-to-be monster, played by Tom Mendes, who seems to glide (not walk) across the stage. His ability to pace Dorian’s messy downfall becomes hypnotising, complimenting his physical talents as the gorgeous lead. The paintings of Dorian made by Grace Sun could be mistaken for the art that decorates our university’s Great Hall, adding grandiose and an eventually bitter backdrop to the disaster that is Dorian’s downfall.
I will admit. I fell immediately in love with Basil Hallward, played by Max Melzer. His shining eyes, yet downcast attitude completely sell his character’s devotion to the art that is Dorian Gray’s character. Melzer convincingly devotes his character to Dorian, despite building such trust with the audience as the lone rational agent in this debaucherous world. It leads to the conscription of all characters and audience to all out war against Dorian as soon as a knife is drawn against Basil.
Bravo for Bracegirdle’s lack of commitment to gender norms. The play transforms the male-entitled hedonist, Lord Henry, from Wilde’s book, into the gender bent Queen of Desire, Harriet Wotton. Wotton, played by Chloe Lethlean Higson, becomes the powerhouse of the show. Higson demonstrates an air of powerful sexuality and womanhood, as she becomes a shark of desire that can smell a single drop of temptation from miles away.
Wotton’s poetic and philosophical monologues wrap spells around every character with their own temptations (with the exception of Basil), and become the cocoon in which Dorian develops, only to emerge a monstrous and horrifying narcissist. Dorian and Harriet’s showdown scene will give me goosebumps for days.
The supporting cast’s commitment to the sexual tension in the play is addictive to watch. With every character’s sexuality ambiguously defined, it’s hard to sit through any group scenes without crossing your legs. Special mentions to Illeana Prieto for her alluring stage presence, and Alex Smiles for delivering lines that remind me of exchanging hot, bodily fluids.
The play’s writer, actors, director, and production team worked to drive my standards of student theatre higher than I would ever anticipate. This production should be remembered, not just as an ode to a popular book, but as a theatrical embodiment of ideas including vanity, lust, desire, taboo, and the potentially deadly grip of narcissism.
Unlike the portrait of Dorian’s soul, this show develops into a beautiful masterpiece worthy of your attendance.
Photo by Mohamad Nahas