[THEATRE ~ AUS]
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Mon 14 Mar.
The Picture Of Dorian Gray was my introduction to the world of literature and social commentary of Oscar Wilde. Originally published in 1890, it made an indelible impression on my young soul and I was excited to see how this adaptation by Kip Williams would work for the stage. The essential idea of Dorian Gray is that he is forever young and that he only ages in a portrait of him created by his artist friend Basil. This sense of eternal youth gives Dorian the freedom to follow his every hedonistic, immoral fancy. But in a message for both old and young there are grave consequences.
This production by the Sydney Theatre Company is simply superb. The ease with which Eryn Jean Norvill handles the multiple roles of Dorian, Basil, Lord Henry, various household staff, and several other characters is incredibly impressive. She steps in and out of these roles throughout with frequent costume and scene changes in a rapid and constantly moving parade.
On the staging side this production is a technical tour de force. I doubt whether many in the audience would have seen anything quite like this. I certainly haven’t. The use of multimedia and live video has been creeping into theatre for some years but when bigger budgets allow bigger crews on big stages to work in tandem with people with big ideas this is what can be achieved.
The opening scenes of Basil talking to Lord Henry take place at the very back of the stage and are filmed live. For most of the audience the scene is best viewed on a large screen hanging from the front of the stage, though those towards the front could view the live scene if they chose. This is often the case throughout – many scenes are recorded live and simultaneously beamed on to large screens.
On other occasions Norvill (as Dorian) is talking live to Lord Henry but Lord Henry’s contribution to the conversation has been pre-recorded and Norvill is conversing with a recording of his part of the dialogue. This device is often employed and should, you would think, seem strange and stilted. But it is seamless, barely noticeable. On multiple occasions Norvill is relating to other characters speaking pre-recorded versions of conversations that she has also recorded earlier so she is effectively talking to herself. Not to mention the fact that so much of her performance here is talking to camera, not to another person or character, and yet must appear as if she is in deep connection with another character. Like combining the skills of live theatre with acting for screen I guess and it is simply brilliant.
In a chilling conclusion that sadly has acute relevance for the narcissistic trend permeating contemporary culture, Dorian Gray ultimately pays a heavy price. This play is full of the wit, wisdom and eloquence characteristic of all Oscar Wilde’s work. You will wait a long time to see an individual performance as good as Norvill offers here, and the technical wizardry achieved by a team of black-clad ghostly wraiths floating in and out of view is initially a little distracting but becomes strangely and appropriately symbolic of a hidden world that only Dorian knew.
This is a show that you could definitely see a second or even a third time. Sometimes five stars are just not enough!
The Picture Of Dorian Gray continues at Her Majesty’s Theatre, at various times, until Sun 20 Mar. [Please note: This is a 2-hour performance with no interval]
Book at adelaidefestival.com.au and Ticketek. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.