Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is as iconic a story as it gets. First published in 1890, it has lived on through the Centuries, refusing to age and being adapted into film, TV and theatre. Now is the turn of an innovative new online production that brings the story bang up to date.
The same creative team who brought us the recent virtual production of What A Carve Up! have worked their magic on Dorian Gray, giving it a similar narrative of being framed as a documentary with characters talking about their involvement with the story. Where Carve Up was a bold experiment, its success means they can push the boundaries further with this one. Expertly written by Henry Filloux-Bennett with direction by Tamara Harvey, Carve Up walked so Dorian Gray could run.
The genius of this production is how it changes the story to make it work in modern times. Where the classic tale talks of a portrait Dorian owns that ages while he stays forever youthful, it all goes digital for this new take. Dorian is given the ultimate filter that, in a brilliant reversal, keeps him looking flawless on all the pictures and videos he posted online but at a terrible cost. His own looks deteriate rapidly reflecting every awful thing he does. This is a clever nod to current times where it can feel more important to look good online than it does in person. Would you sacrifice your own looks to look better online? It's a real interesting dilemma.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is set in present day and I mean literally the present day. The characters find themselves in the middle of the pandemic, bored in lockdown and communicating to eachother via technology. Whereas references to the pandemic may feel shoehorned in and unnatural in other shows, it actually adds to the story here, with the use of Dorian's face mask helping him cover up his deterioating looks.
The language may be updated but the production is littered with Oscar Wilde references. Even the most traditional fan of Oscar Wilde will admit the way this show has been updated is nothing short of genius. The production is beautifully and cleverly filmed - you can tell at times cast members weren't together but brilliant editing makes it seem like they were. The visual effects used are stronger than you would expect in a virtual production, making this look closer to a high budget movie at times.
Let's talk about the cast. Assembling some absolutely massive names, this isn't so much stunt casting as it is getting people at the top of their game to show just what they can do. Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley prove their legendary status with Lumley in particular ensuring the audience eat out of the palm of her hand. Emma McDonald gives a brilliant turn as Sybil, the tragic love interest of Dorian, while Russell Tovey is wonderful as ever as Basil.
Alfred Enoch dominates the camera as Harry acting nonchalant at first until he unravels to reveal more beneath the surface. The real star is Fionn Whitehead playing the title role. As Dorian, he shows vulnerability turning into a real egotistical and selfish need to fulfil his own desires no matter the cost. As the body count grows, Dorian's ravaged face matches how rotten his heart becomes. Fionn channels this perfectly, playing a sinister turn, while simultaneously convincing us why everybody falls in love with him. With nods to Dorian's sexuality that Wilde would be proud of, references to Grindr are inserted seamlessly to provide ambiguity to the character.
The Picture of Dorian Gray feels like a real game-changer of a production. Pushing the limits of what you can do with virtual productions, it takes you into a world of darkness that feels oddly familiar to what we're living through. Turning Dorian into a fame obsessed influencer was a bold move but one that paid off brilliantly. The inventive choices and the changes made to such a well-loved work was as risky as it gets. The creative team should be applauded for every decision they made as this was pure perfection.
As well as being a brilliant show in itself, The Picture of Dorian Gray is also an achievement for theatres around the country. Co-produced by the Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre,Oxford Playhouse and Theatr Clwyd, these theatres might not always get the attention they deserve when compared to West End venues but just look at what they've done with this incredible production.
With themes of diminishing youth, vanity and the way we portray ourselves online, The Picture of Dorian Gray manages to be more relevant than ever over 130 years after it was first published. Never pandering to a younger clientele or feeling like it is desperately trying to stay relevant, the tweaks to the story feel natural and are effortlessly updated, ensuring the classic story of the tale is still present even if the way the story is told has been changed.
A captivating and mesmerising watch, The Picture of Dorian Gray joins my short and elite list of the greatest virtual productions to be made over the last 12 months. An absolute work of genius. watch this now before it ages.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is available to watch until March 31st. Get your ticket from https://www.pictureofdoriangray.com/