Dorian Gray

Book by Linnie Reedman, music and lyrics by Joe Evans
Ruby in the Dust
Riverside Studios

Dorian Gray

Publishers didn't want to publish Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Booksellers didn't want to stock it. Editors didn't want to review it. One editor thought it was a matter for the Criminal Investigation department rather than the critic.

Those who did review it damned it as "esoteric prurience," malodorous putrefaction" and said it was "suitable reading for outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph boys." The last comment was a direct reference to the Cleveland Street male brothel scandal of 1889.

The novel did Wilde immeasurable harm and was used against him during his first trial. "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book," he declared. "Books are well written or badly written.” The book, though never named in the novel, was, as Wilde was forced to admit in court, J J Huysmans's À Rebours.

Dorian, as you will remember, sells his soul for the gift of eternal youth—"Youth is the one thing worth having"—and indulges his passion for pleasure and sin. Thirty years of debauchery inevitably leaves its mark; the conceit, however, is that the profligacy and degradation are visible only on the painting.

Dorian is initially seduced by Lord Henry Wotton, a languid, cynical dandy, a self-satisfied and self-conscious hedonist, who believes that the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. He has all the best epigrams, many of which Wilde repeated in his plays. The other main character is Basil Hallward, the painter of the portrait, who idolises Dorian and is finally murdered by him.

"Basil Hallward is what I think I am," said Wilde. "Lord Henry is what the world thinks me. Dorian is what I would like to be in other ages, perhaps."

The novel is remarkably prophetic of Wilde's downfall and certain passages (with hindsight) read as if he were expressing his worst fears. The story's popularity is undimmed. There have been an enormous amount of plays, films and television versions. There have been at least three operas and eight ballets.

The present adaptation by Linnie Reedman (who also directs) is the worst I have seen and does Wilde a gross disservice. The famous climax is a complete balls-up and if you haven’t read the novella you wouldn’t have a clue what is meant to be going on. The production is a mess.

The pace is unbearably slow and the acting is very poor. Jack Fox (the son of James Fox) in his stage debut has the looks for Dorian but there is nothing in his performance to suggest he is ready to play a leading role.

Daisy Bevan (the granddaughter of Vanessa Redgrave) is cast as Siby Vane, a bad actress who acts Shakespeare badly. Watching Shakespeare being badly acted is a bore. Lord Henry has all the best epigrams but Joe Wredden who plays him doesn’t know how to deliver them. Antony Jardine whines a lot as Hallward.

The inclusion of a Master of Ceremonies is another dreadful mistake. So, too are the songs and masks. Don’t waste your time. Read Oscar Wilde’s novella instead.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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