IIf Dorian Gray was reborn in our time, it seems very appropriate that he is a social media star obsessed with his image. That is why it makes great intuitive sense that this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel places its protagonist at the center of the digital whirlwind of 2021.
Now there is no physical painting: the deal made with Basil Hallward allows Dorian eternal youth and beauty online, but age marks him in the real world, his face is etched with the ugliness of his accumulated misdeeds (snorting coca, fishing with cats and hooking late at night). ). The pandemic is incorporated into the drama and enhances the story when Dorian wears his mask to cover his aging face.
Inversion is a clever way to bring new resonances to the Victorian notion of the divided self in Wilde’s novel; Here the fracture is between the real and digital self rather than the Christian notion of right and wrong, despite Fionn Whitehead’s Dorian, innocent but a bit too ingrained to accept the deal with Basil (Russell Tovey) , sell your soul very fast.
This production is created by the team behind the recent adaptation of Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up !, which was a highlight of last year’s closing, and contains some of the same ingenious techniques for reinventing theater on screen. The effects are not as stimulating and the pace is slower, although the story is full of imagination. A co-production between five theaters (The Barn, Lawrence Batley, New Wolsey, Oxford Playhouse and Theatr Clwyd), the quality of the production is as elegant and refined as a Netflix drama, and it feels much more simply like a movie than a theater. -on-film.
Written by Henry Filloux-Bennett and directed by Tamara Harvey, the narrative begins at the end of the original story, with Dorian already dead. It comes wrapped in some of the same framing devices as the last show, with key characters retelling their version of events in a series of filmed interviews, along with dramatized flashbacks, giving the overall effect of a detective novel. The central mystery here is why Dorian Gray, an English literature student and rising social media celebrity, should end his life the way he does.
The characters talk to each other on their laptops; Quick text message exchanges are typed and social media messages scroll across our screens. Sibyl Vane (Emma McDonald), the doomed actor Dorian falls in love with, introduces himself largely through his Instagram account as he posts poems, Shakespearean soliloquies, and the occasional Wilde aphorism. The gothic tones of the story are highlighted through the images: Dorian looks increasingly beautiful on his YouTube channel as he grows more haggard and haunted off screen. It’s all clever, though the framing of the story sometimes gets in the way of his power.
The show is packed with big names, including Stephen Fry as an interviewer and Joanna Lumley as Lady Narborough. But it’s Alfred Enoch who steals the show as Henry Wotton, whose intimate friendship with Dorian brings out the homosexual undertones in Wilde’s text. Dorian’s sexuality is not overtly fixed here: he falls in love with Sibyl, but has previously been on Grindr and flirts with Henry and Basil. He’s a thoroughly modern Dorian Gray, and his moral message – from a generation being sucked into a vortex of anxiety, self-obsession, shame and suicide via social media – rings out loud.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism