The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

Theatre Royal Nottingham: on tour

(2003)

Review by Steve Orme

The sign of a great actor is someone who is famous for various roles yet can convince you that he or she is a totally different character.

When Robert Powell walks onto the stage, never for one moment do you think this is the same man who was Jesus of Nazareth, Richard Hannay in The Thirty-Nine Steps nor Sgt Dave Briggs in five series of The Detectives with Jasper Carrott.

Powell is unmistakeably Lord Henry Wooton, the mentor who educates Dorian Gray in the more outlandish ways of the world, although the young man doesn't take much leading astray.

The 59-year-old has such presence and delivery that he effortlessly holds you in thrall every time he appears. Don't think, however, that the rest of the cast aren't in the same league: there are some big names who give excellent performances, yet Powell outshines them all.

Simon Ward gives a well-judged performance as painter Basil Hallward, Derren Nesbitt is charmingly comfortable as Lord Fermor and Elizabeth Power (Arthur Fowler's paramour in EastEnders) is superb without being too over-the-top as affected actress Mrs Vane. She pitches the character just right, especially when her son asks her why she can't be more natural. "It's just another way of being inaudible!" she replies.

Nick Waring (Robert Smith in London's Burning) is thrilling in the title role, changing from an innocent teenager into a despicable man prone to excesses and without morals when the play moves on eighteen years.

The Picture of Dorian Gray was Oscar Wilde's only full-length novel. It's set in and around London in the 1890s. The plot involves Basil Hallward painting Dorian Gray's portrait and the youngster wishes he could stay as young as the portrait. His wish comes true but while he lives a life of sin and debauchery the portrait gets older and older.

Trevor Baxter has imaginatively adapted the book, losing none of Wilde's incisive wit, including the famous line spoken by Lord Henry: "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

Philip Witcomb's set is simply amazing. A larger than life-sized portrait dominates the stage early on while even taller mirrors give a haunting feel. Lord Henry's and Gray's decadent homes are impressively projected onto the rear wall, as is the portrait when it has changed through aging.

The homosexual element in the play, with Lord Henry and Basil Hallward vying for Dorian's affections, remains just under the surface in Elijah Moshinsky's production.

Perhaps the darkness of the piece might have been brought out more - when Dorian turns to evil his lack of remorse seems matter-of-fact rather than disturbing.

Overall though, it's an excellent staging of one of Wilde's less-performed plays which makes you wonder why it's not dusted off more regularly. Unmissable.

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" tours until December 6th