Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is the ultimate novel about art and performance, the struggle between fantasy and pleasure, closeted homosexuality and the price of beauty. Though I have much respect for what Pregnant Fish Theatre have tried to achieve here; however, they fail to capture the essence of the novel and instead present something closer to a parody than a faithful performance. Performing in a disused shop outlet in Princes Mall as part of the Free Fringe does the company no favours either, and in this respect they do well to overcome the wholly un-atmospheric surroundings and absence of lighting or any other theatrical effects.
The decision to turn such a reputable novel into a musical was interesting, but not wholly successful given that the songs eventually became quite repetitive as they were all effectively based around the same melodies. The musical director, Geoff Higgs, sadly had some of his nicer pieces destroyed, as the actors were not talented enough singers to carry off the tunes. As an ensemble the group performed well together, but individual voices were not strong enough to hold the intimate duets and much singing was unfortunately off key.
The performance was most successful in terms of the ensemble. They were able to effectively demonstrate the inner torment that Dorian felt through arm movements and contorted voices. Initially inspiring, this was also unfortunately overexploited, meaning that by the end of the play it was a tired conceit, and the hissing noises were rather grating.
Isolated individual actors showed promise. Hannah-Marie Tate as Sybil’s mother and Robbie Brittain as Lord Henry both had a commanding presence, performing their multiple roles with convincing ease. For me the main part, Dorian was a frustrating presence as none of the allure one would expect surrounded the eponymous figure. Dorian Gray is perceived as the paragon of beauty and virtue, almost god-like, but in this production he was disappointingly human. This was apparent when he proceeded to kiss three characters over the course of the play, including Basil, which was a stark departure from the novel in which homosexuality and passion is continuously just below the surface but never explicitly vocalised.
Making radical changes the plot and providing a host of new characters means that Pregnant Fish’s production cannot really claim to be based on Wilde’s novel. Furthermore, by simply using the novel’s title, without specifying it is an adaptation may mean that many will expect a performance that is truthful to the book. If this is the case, they will be sorely disappointed.