It’s always difficult to tell a story that audiences are familiar with and manage to find a new way to engage them in it, but in Box Tale Soup’s new adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, it is safe to say that new ground is thoroughly covered. Combining theatre, dance and puppetry, this production left me asking new questions about a tale I thought I knew inside out.
Innovative storytelling techniques are there in abundance
A clever set and beautiful soundscape kept me entranced from the onset of this production. Dorian Gray is not only a morality tale on the dangers of vanity, but also an important piece of gay literature. For this reason I was initially thrown by the casting of a female Dorian, but as the play went on I realised that this was a clever move in illustrating one of the play’s central messages – the relationship between reality and performativity. As the naïve Dorian, Laura Darrall shone on stage and made the character likeable and relatable even as he devolved through the tragic denouement.
But it was Mark Collier and Noel Byrne who stole the show, performing not only as Sir Henry and Basil but also as a raft of other characters through utilisation of beautiful paper puppets. The heightened reality created by the characterisation of the puppets added to this exploration of performativity. The already complex gender roles being played with by Darrall’s casting were further complicated when Collier took on the role of Dorian’s love interest actress Sybil Vane who, we see perform as Much Ado About Nothing’sBeatrice, who within that play disguises herself as a boy. I admit thinking about this and what it says about the nature of gender made my head hurt – as, I suspect, was the intention.
Where the show fell down, perhaps ironically, were in the moments where it tried to be too faithful to the book. Long excerpts of the show did not feature the genre-bending music, choreography or use of puppets that made it what it was, and at times these drawn-out sections of dialogue, lifted almost directly from the source material, seemed unnecessarily thorough. Why did we need to have a long static discussion about Dorian’s naivety and blind following of Sir Henry when this was far better exemplified through the play’s different effects? It felt a little like overcompensation – an issue of the adaptation and not of the performance.
Despite this, if you are looking to see an original take on a tale you thought you knew, this is a good choice. Don’t go expecting a particularly special take on the story itself, but innovative storytelling techniques are there in abundance.