Blue Devil Productions closed the Rialto Theatre’s Brighton Fringe season last week with a two-act production,The Tragedy of Dorian Gray; their first full-length play.
play’s strength lies in creating a tragedy out of the story
Playwright and Director Ross Dinwiddy has provided an updated and adapted version of Oscar Wilde’s infamous and only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, published in 1890. Regarded as possibly indecent, the first version, which appeared in the USA, had some five-hundred words removed without Wilde’s knowledge. A fuller version followed, but some still thought it worthy of prosecution on the grounds of offending public morality, despite Wilde’s staunch defence of the work in his preface. Dinwiddy’s decision to change the setting to 1965 takes it out of the period in which it would have been regarded as scandalous. Although certain actions in the play would still have been illegal in that year, they would hardly have been regarded with the same level of outrage in the swinging sixties as they would have been in the late Victorian era. While the Sexual Offences Act, which partly decriminalised homosexual acts between men was still two years away (there never was a law against women), Penguin Books had by that time successfully challenged the case brought against them five years earlier under the Obscene Publications Act, 1959 and received a court judgment that defended D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley's Lover on the grounds of literary merit.
The play’s strength lies in creating a tragedy out of the story in which the genre is inherent. All the characters suffer in one way or another, though some more than others. Dorian Grey (Maximus Polling) sows the seeds of his own destruction through his self-indulgent narcissism from the moment he sells his soul to the devil, but his demise is no less sad for that. Basil Hallward’s (Christopher Sherwood) obsessive infatuation with Dorian ultimately leads to his gruesome end. Alan Campbell (Conor Litten) is sufficiently compromised that he finds no way out of becoming embroiled in Grey’s machinations. Living with what he had done destroys his marriage and turns the once rational man into a suicidal wreck. Meanwhile, Grey’s wife, Sybil Vane (Tara Clark) succumbs to alcohol and drugs in a hapless marriage and takes her own life following disastrous notices for her latest stage performance. Mavis Ruxton (Heather Alexander), a character created by Dinwiddy, eventually ends up incapaciated, while Harry Wotton (Kace Monney), as the modern day Lord Henry Wooton merely disappears into oblivion.
Amongst the largely understated, montone performances Alexander brings wit, humour and bold eccentricity to her part as a critical social animal who pops up at every event where the drinks are flowing and the gossip is flourishing. In stark contrast Sherwood just as successfully plays a sincere and unassuming northern sycophant whose obsession with Grey is uncontrollable. As for the young man himself, Polling has the necessary charm and abundant good looks the part demands and he knows it. Beauty, however, does not always need to be seen in all its glory; suggestion can often be far more powerful and seductive. The nude scene, which loomed predictably and appeared inevitably, was simply gratuitous. Fine features alone are insufficient to carry off the role and a much stronger script and supporting cast are needed to make this version credible.
The story of Dorian Grey will always fascinate and have an appeal but this lengthy, multi-scene, furniture-moving production will perhaps not rank amongst the most intriguing or gripping.