Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Dorian Gray

Devised and directed by Matthew Bourne, with music by Terry Davies
Produced by New Adventures, Sadler's Wells and the Edinburgh International Festival
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
(2008)

Production photo

Dorian Gray had the largest ever dance audience at the Edinburgh International Festival and that is hardly surprising because Matthew Bourne's work attracts what one might call a cross-over audience, not just dance lovers but those whose interest is in drama too. That's mainly, I suspect, due to the very strong narrative line which runs through all Bourne's work.

What he does is take a well-known story (from classical ballet in Swan Lake, Nutcracker! and Highland Fling, from opera in The Car Man and from film in Play Without Words and Edward Scissorhands) and puts his own stamp on it, approaching it from an individual angle. Here he has taken Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and brought it right into the 21st century. Appropriately so, for Wilde's study of narcissism fits well into the modern obsession with image and celebrity and the total self-centredness that goes along with it.

Dorian Gray (Richard Winsor looking a bit like a cleaned up Wayne Rooney) is plucked from obscurity as a waiter at a function at über-cool White Box Media by a photographer (Aaron Sillis) who proceeds both to photograph and seduce him. He is then taken up by Lady H, Wilde's Lord Henry equivalent (Michela Meazza), a real woman of steel and power. He becomes the face of a men's fragrance, Immortal, and its advertising poster, featuring his face, becomes the equivalent of the original Dorian Gray's picture.

There is the same ever-increasing debauchery, set in a society which is totally self- and image-obsessed. It's a very bleak vision, packed full of references to modern culture, with violence and despair lurking just below the surface.

The set (by Lez Brotherston), the centrepiece of which is built on a revolve and morphs into various locations quickly and smoothly, is mainly fashionably white, and the costumes are white, cream or black with just the odd touch of colour here and there, for example in the blue plastic gloves of the medics whom Lady H hires to "perfect" Dorian.

Bourne takes us on a journey through a chillingly decadent society which left the Newcastle audience stunned and enthusiastic. Justly so, for the dance is energetic and imaginative, at times raw and very sexual. The whole piece - choreography, design, music, lighting (by Paule Constable) and performances - is compelling.

The tour ended in Newcastle

Philip Seager reviewed the 2009 touring production in Sheffield

Reviewer: Peter Lathan