A Picture of Dorian Gray

Rob Johnston
Second Skin Theatre
White Rabbit Theatre

A Picture of Dorian Gray
Laura Pradelska as Dorian Gray Credit: Martin Black
Eloise Black as Sybil, Laura Pradelska as Dorian Gray, Toby Liszt as James and George Collie as Baz Credit: Martin Black
Laura Pradelska as Dorian Gray and Eloise Black as Sybil Credit: Martin Black

Note A Picture not The Picture for, despite what its flyer may suggest, this is not Oscar Wilde’s story, though it borrows character names and some details from it. This is a new modern story that takes a cynical look at our culture proposing a reality that there will always be a strata of the rich and the powerful and we can’t change that. That is just the way the world is, although somewhere hidden in there may be a voice trying to change it.

Game of Thrones actress Laura Pradelska plays Dorian Grey which might suggest that the character has changed gender but this is gender-blind casting for, despite the high heels and blonde pony-tail and the elegantly androgynous suiting, this Dorian fills the openly-homosexual fantasies of painter Baz, flamboyantly played in a succession of colourful shirts and tunics by George Collie.

This Dorian is a rich, beautiful banker who doubles as narrator, referring to himself in the third person. He is obsessed by the idea of the deal; that is what drives him. He takes us back to the really big one that is going to make him millions in 2005. The world is awaiting the announcement of who is to host the 2012 Olympics and Gray already knows it. With Gray’s insider knowledge he is going to make millions and cut former friend James in on the deal. Now, James seems to want out, but instead has another assignment from Gray: to kill him.

From there time moves backwards to the day that Baz unveiled his portrait of Dorian to his subject and their friends James and his sister Sybil, who is Dorian’s girlfriend. Even at this unveiling James sees the portrait is revealing some of the bad traits in Dorian’s character. What follows is incidents rather than a developed plot as Dorian’s involvement in the financial world separates him from his friends. Sybil dies. Baz comes to destroy the portrait and instead is killed by Dorian, and the terrorist attacks of July stop James from killing Julian.

Each of the main characters has a moment with a long speech to the audience. They are perhaps the best written elements of the play. They reveal much about the speaker’s personality but seem tangential to the story.

Toby Liszt as James tells of the way an early American people bandaged the heads of babies to deform their skulls to match an artificial idea of beauty.

Solicitor Sybil reveals the tragic story of a 70-year old shoplifter she once defended, a touching tale of abuse and another view of beauty. Elise Black delivers this beautifully; indeed her playing makes Sybil the most real person in the play.

Strangest of all, Baz describes a complicated dream in which he found himself "inside Princess Diana", still with his own consciousness but sharing hers as well as she was made love to on a holiday yacht and then on then on to her final hour in Paris. While elsewhere Collie may seem a little over the top with Baz’s outrageousness, he handles this bizarre confession with skill. His obsession with the “People’s Princess” afflicted quite a few gay men and in a strange way it earths his presentation of this lonely cottager. (He also makes a very funny ghost!)

Although these three speeches are not written as soliloquies—each is followed by a response that suggests it has been directed to a person—director Andy McQuade wisely has them delivered straight out front with no one else on stage. It does not integrate them into the story but it does add to their effect.

Pradelska’s Dorian, of course, often communicates directly with the audience, his (her) face a mask like charm to hide contempt. His fellows at the top of the financial tree refer to the rest of us in derogatory terms as “humans”. It is a strong performance but marred by dropping some intimate conversations to a rapid mumble. Small spaces can deceive the actor and acoustics change before an audience; perhaps by the time you read this the performance will have been adjusted.

I am not sure I understand Johnston’s meaning when he makes Dorian declare his attraction to ”the persistence of power”. Though it is clearly linked to the idea that power is part of a status quo that cannot be changed. Or can it? What may be only a single line from James suggests that Dorian’s entry to the world of finance was intended to plant a revolutionary mole at its very heart. Played with an accent that marks him off from even his sister let alone posh Baz and Dorian, is this the catalyst for bring capitalism down?

It suggests an undeveloped plot that could be much more interesting.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton