The Picture of Dorian Gray: Every Picture Tells A Story
An online version of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray with Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley, Russell Tovey and Fionn Whitehead… what to expect? Super virtual world Gothic….
Modernised for the Pandemic, social distancing, online world, this production utilises it’s Zooms, Vlogs and avatars. It is a bit unnecessarily sweary and vulgar but it also suggests the image focused, self-absorption of those attempting to go big in the virtual world whilst shut up in their rooms — where followers, what others think of you and the image you project become more important than reality.
It also turns conventions upside down — the oddity of Dorian’s world is shown — he is an English student trapped in his Uni dorm with nothing to do until he tries Vlogging and discovers Harry who wants a book club and more….bedtime stories? Heterosexuality is the oddity here, as Dorian is surrounded by older men, who all seem to want something from his and almost seem to be grooming him at times — the friendships come with suggestions of strings attached — need, giving or decadent flirting. It is creepy, intense and exclusive. The production also highlights Dorian’s lack of real family — he is surrounded by others and dazzles them, but even his dead Mum’s friend seems to want to use him for her own social prestige and virtual fame. Given a filter, Dorian can suddenly become virtually young and beautiful forever and achieve online presence big time. But is aesthetics over ethics worth it?
Emma McDonald does a wonderful job with Sybil Vane, in giving her character depth, more reality and a sense of personhood. The cruelty that Dorian metes out to her after her public failure is deeply unkind — she is only worth something to him because of her talent, what she can do and what she can achieve online. When she messes up, she is no longer ‘likable’ or worth following — she can no longer bring him greater fame or be of use to him. She brings ethics and morality into sharp relief as Dorian rejects her brutally. Her young age is also used to good impact — sometimes I think this gets lost or overlooked.
The production also highlights the impact of the filter on Dorian’s ethics — in this version it isn’t the image which ages and decays, but the real Dorian. Whilst his virtual self shines from glossy to glossier, the views he puts forth become grim and grimmer. He seeks followers and fame at any cost — resulting in lack of connection, Q-Anon conspiracy theories and hatred of others, mirrored by an increasingly darkened background.
But the best thing in this production is Alfred Enoch. Debauched, louche, attention seeking, self-centred — despite all this I have sofa envy! And even he is appalled by what happens to Sybil, although he doesn’t like his conscience being bothered one bit.
Very well done — devised as a series of investigative interviews — the socially distanced Pandemic setting is used really well and makes us consider who and what are we being influenced by and who and what are we influencing and what is the ethical outcome? I wish they’d kept more of Wilde’s lines though — they quote Wilde and try to mimic him and his arch style, but with more swearing and sex references — but can’t beat the man’s original lines!
*Photos author’s own from the livestream production of Dorian Gray*