The Picture of Doreen Gray

Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding
LipService
The Lowry

Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding in The Picture of Doreen Gray Credit: LipService

“All art is quite useless.” So Oscar Wilde asserts at the start of The Picture of Dorian Gray, his infamous nineteenth century novel in which the handsome young protagonist wishes that his portrait will age and decay while he remains forever young.

Any moral message in the book is unclear. But LipService’s contemporary parody The Picture of Doreen Gray has a very clear purpose—and it isn’t just to make you laugh.

Doreen is a middle-aged radio host and TV presenter, a minor celebrity with an inflated ego that quickly gets deflated when she is fired from her role on a classic car show. When she attends a school reunion as guest speaker, Doreen comes across her A Level Art self-portrait and is confronted by her formerly youthful, beautiful image.

When this painted Doreen comes to life, they agree to swap places. The new Doreen is soon a media sensation—but reconciling her young exterior with a steadily ageing interior turns out to be surprisingly difficult.

The production’s set pays homage to the original story, with oversized gold picture frames draped in white fabric forming the backdrop, but the contemporary pop soundtrack and use of multimedia posits the story very firmly in modern times. Short films starring the youthful Doreen are projected onto a screen, advertising her own brand cereal, detergent and face cream, sending up modern day advertising with very amusing results.

The portrait itself is reverse projected onto the same screen, cleverly transitioning from a static picture to a film that reacts with characters onstage. This use of modern technology also helps to make a point about ageing. Tweets printed on placards quite literally pop up during Doreen’s school reunion speech, and her irritation at the interruptions shows her real age in contrast to the shrill-voiced, tweeting generation.

Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding exploit the two-woman show format well, making pointed references to lengthy costume changes and the impossibility of characters played by the same actress being onstage at the same time. Their interplay is energetic throughout—the sequence where Doreen and her old classmate, Andrea, pursue each other through an endlessly shifting series of door frames is a particular highlight. A community chorus formed of local volunteers provides enthusiastic support to the starring roles.

The fact that Doreen’s replacement on the classic car show is male could have provided an opening for LipService to address the difference between society’s treatment of ageing men and women, an issue which I’m sure Fox and Ryding—as a female comedy duo—would have plenty to say about. Perhaps this would have been a little too much ground to cover however.

The second half of the production drags a little, as the spoof veers off from its source material. Tired of trying to maintain her youthful façade, Doreen returns to the portrait to swap back and re-emerges as her grey-haired, elasticated trouser-wearing true self. Rather than concluding here, there are several ensuing scenes dealing with the consequences of Doreen’s transformation, but really there’s no danger that the audience haven’t got the message by now.

In an uplifting conclusion that Wilde’s youth-obsessed Dorian Gray would have abhorred, Doreen and company make a stand for ‘invisible’ middle-aged women everywhere, asserting their value and embracing their past, present and future.

Reviewer: Georgina Wells