Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Dorian Gray - The Curve Theatre, Leicester

Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Adapted, choreographed & directed by Matthew Bourne
Reviewer: David Noble

When Oscar Wilde wrote A Picture of Dorian Gray, at the end of the 19th Century, his tale of a man who sells his soul in return for immortal youth, only to find his portrait disfiguring as he slips into a life of hedonistic depravity; he was widely criticized for the “homoerotic undertones” of the text. In fact so much was the Victorian distaste at the main protagonist’s actions, although never mentioned in the novel, that the book was used as evidence in Wilde’s trial for “carrying out obscene acts on another male”. The contrast with Matthew Bourne’s dance adaptation could not be greater. Bourne, who is most famous for directing a male version of Swan Lake, decides bring the tale into the 21st Century, and the “undertones” of Wilde are well and truly abandoned, in what can only be described as an utterly transfixing performance.

Although Dorian Gray begins rather clumsily, with a somewhat clich├ęd photo-shoot pastiche, Bourne’s fluid choreography soon grips. Dorian’s rise as a model and subsequent descent into an uncontrollable state of lust and passion is portrayed in an eerily absorbing manner, which is heightened by the excellent and wonderfully eclectic musical compositions of David Shrubsole.

Some scenes of Dorian alone, played by the brilliant Richard Winsor, even breach upon the ethereal as he writhes in pleasure at his own beauty. Yet the aspect of the choreography most expertly executed was that in such a dark and chilling story, Bourne was able to transmit some of Wilde’s sparkling literary wit into the piece, a most remarkable feat considering there was a complete lack of dialogue. This surprising embellishment relieved the constant wickedness of the play, and though the depressing denouement inevitably arrived, one felt it was not the drudging procession it could have been.

Lez Brotherston’s set, which consisted of a rotating centre stage divided into two, resourcefully displayed the dissimilarity between Dorian’s public and private life. The sparse feel of the rest of the set coupled with the naked lighting (designed by Paule Constable) ensured the mood of the play could be altered with quite literally the flick of a switch or indeed a rise in tempo of the music, both of which were skilfully utilised.

As mentioned the undeniable star of the show was Richard Winsor, who was simply captivating as the self-obsessed Dorian. He managed to convey a bullish nature whilst also capturing the inner insecurity and vulnerability that possesses the character so virulently.

Michela Meazza’s elegiac performance as Lady H also deserves credit, for she oozed style and grace with every footstep she so casually trod. However, I do feel as if the role of Cyril Vane, played by Christopher Marney, could have been refined in so far as his stereotypically homosexual actions and nuances did not merge fluidly with the nonchalantly bi-curious conduct of the remainder of the cast.

All in all, Matthew Bourne has created a beguiling picture of Dorian Gray, and one that thoroughly entertains. The rhythmic movement and eventual unerring brutality in many scenes craft drama that is visually stunning, and leave one immersed in the unfolding action. It is a technically magnificent and cleverly adapted piece, yet as Oscar Wilde wrote in the preface of this novel, “All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.” So I shall leave no further comment!

Dorian Gray runs at the Curve Theatre until Saturday 19th September.
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