The Picture of Dorian Gray Review: A Funhouse Mirror of Wilde’s Soul

Sarah Snook as Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Directed by Kip Williams
The Sydney Theatre Company
Theatre Royal Haymarket
doriangrayplay.com

The reviewer attended during previews on 9 February 2024

It may sound like ballyhoo but it’s true: no one has seen a Dorian Gray like this before. The production by The Sydney Theatre Company, directed by Kip Williams and starring Sarah Snook in its London run from February to May 2024, catapults Wilde’s timeless myth into the social media era with a combination of technical chutzpah and theatrical razzamatazz.

While the production has been duly lauded for its astonishing use of video and for Snook’s 26-character tour de force, what makes it a true must-see is that it makes the familiar story exciting. The Picture of Dorian Gray has rarely been satisfying on the stage. It may seem to have the right ingredients for success — glamourous characters, witty lines, a great gothic hook of a story — but it’s not structured like a play, there’s precious little action, and the ‘monster’ is a static picture, lacking the malevolent presence of a villain like Mr. Hyde or Dracula. Add to this the fact that most theatrical adaptations perforce miss out Wilde’s florid prose, which is as important as the dialogue.

Williams tackles all these problems in creative ways. Snook alternates between narrating the story using Wilde’s words and performing as its many characters. In a February talk he gave on his ‘cinetheatre’ theories and techniques, Williams said this choice was partly to harken back to how we first engage with stories: having them read to us by adults. The effect also suggested the way that a child will tell you about a film or book: describing the action but then also acting it out. Snook as narrator has that kind of impish quality at first, weaving her lines around the dialogue and popping into scenes.

As for action, after the early scenes Snook is in constant motion, often rushing across the stage (and behind and under it) in a dizzyingly physical performance. Williams amps up the movement, particularly in a frenetic club scene (replacing the novel’s opium den) and a mad forest chase that represents William’s one major deviation from the novel’s plot. Snook changes costumes and wigs onstage, aided by the black-clad assistants and camera operators who are her co-creators. This adds to the mood of childlike silliness early on, with the sort of raiding-the-dressing-box glee that recalls a French & Saunders or Dame Edna Everage skit. But what sometimes appears chaotic is in fact choreographed to the nth degree: in order to synch her filmed stage movements with the pre-filmed video segments, Snook must hit hundreds of color-coded marks on the stage, while she and the onstage camera team must line up with hundreds of cues.

While Williams has kept the novel’s structure, he seems to have recognized the theatrical gaps in it and bridged them with both stagecraft and narrative additions. He jazzes up Dorian’s explorations of pleasure prompted by the yellow book, and the aforementioned club/opium-den scene, scenes that normally fall flat on stage. To get the dramatic boost he needs from the Selby estate hunting party scene, he has written new dialogue and a story change that work well; he also brings in a bit of gothic stage design that further sharpens the scene, and noticeably darkens the tone.

Every director adapting this novel faces ‘the picture problem’: how do you make the picture of Dorian Gray do the work it needs to do? How do you physically present it such that the audience can see the changes? How do you make it horrific enough? Perhaps most importantly, how do you make this prop drive the action at key turning points: when Dorian makes his wish, when Basil sees it midway through, when Dorian sees it at the end? Looking at a picture is hardly a dramatic event. (The last major cinematic version, 2009’s Dorian Gray, made the picture move to make it more powerful, with questionable effect.)

Williams — who has filled this production with more pictures than any previous version, a whole gallery of screens that swoop around the action — had the greatest opportunity of any to magnify and distort the picture, to force it upon us in a startling fashion. But he doesn’t. ‘I knew early on I was not going to show the picture,’ Williams explained. ‘The most important relationship is between Dorian and the picture. I put the audience inside the portrait, constantly watching Dorian.’

And we can’t take our eyes off her, because wherever she is – on multiple screens, on the stage – and whoever she is at any given moment, it’s all about her. One of the delights of the screens is that we get to see her face more closely, as she modulates from broad comedy to the kind of nuanced shades that distinguished her award-gathering work on Succession. As much as the screens or the stage, the drama of Dorian Gray plays out on Snook’s face, the kind of living canvas upon which Dorian’s sins are writ. It would be a star-making performance were Snook not already a star.

Cinetheatre in Action

The Picture of Dorian Gray represents the first in Williams’ gothic trilogy for the Sydney Theatre Company – the 2020 Australian production was followed by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 2022, with Dracula opening later this year — and a major evolution of the practice he calls cinetheatre. This involves the mixture of video and live elements, for which Williams has three principles:

  • Video must be live. ‘The audience knows when it is and when it isn’t,’ Williams said.
  • The screen must have a spatial relationship to the audience.
  • The camera must be active and acknowledged.

Dorian Gray marks an important test of the first principle: previously, his productions only used live video, shot onstage and beamed to the screens. This latest production demanded pre-recorded video, something Williams had shunned hitherto. At his talk in February, he and Andrew Upton, a previous artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company, stressed the importance of space in theatre, space that is charged by the energy the actors create. Upton said video was often a ‘dead space’, and though Williams had successfully integrated video in his other productions, using pre-recorded video might sap rather than amplify the onstage energy.

Williams has not only mitigated that risk, he has created a genuine sense of magic. As when watching a David Copperfield or David Blaine seemingly break the rules of physics, the audience in London was stunned by the multiplicity of Snooks interacting onscreen with integrated images of Snook captured live on stage. The technical wizardry (made possible in part by the software program Disguise) has the audience asking themselves, ‘How are they doing that?’ In the bravura club sequence, for instance, Snook films herself with an iPhone, flipping between Snapchat filters to portray different characters, including a stubbly James Vane filter custom-created by the production.

In his talk, Williams shared several music videos that had inspired his vision, particularly Kylie Minogue’s ‘Come Into My World’, directed by French filmmaker Michel Gondry, which features a syncopated host of Kylies. Films that influenced Williams included Sally Potter’s gender-bending and fourth-wall-breaking 1992 film Orlando, and Lars Von Trier’s Dogville from 2003, which makes transparent the creation of place and space, as does Dorian Gray with its bare opening stage and visible cameras.

The sense of wonder conjured by the show also brings to mind the original cinemagician, Georges Méliès, whose groundbreaking silent films enthralled audiences with a superabundance of things they’d never seen before — from characters disappearing and reappearing to a rocket landing in the moon’s eye. One scene in Williams’ Dorian Gray, with Sibyl Vane’s head on a puppet stage addressing marionette characters, nods (if you will) to Méliès’ L’homme à la Tête en Caoutchouc (1901).

About that scene, Williams noted, ‘Sybil Vane has an antithetical philosophy to Lord Henry. She goes from artifice, where she’s played first by a puppet, to real — and then back to artifice via Lord Henry, who tells Dorian, “She wasn’t real.” ‘

The puppet show illustrates that, while strikingly novel in its use of technology, the production also incorporates references to various forms of entertainment: a dinner party scene played with characters from a farce; a brief chorus line dance with Snook and the camera crew; a costume that hints at Elvis’s Vegas years, worn with a blonde bouffant that seems plucked from the head of David Bowie circa his callow 1980s commercial period, both markers perhaps of Dorian’s fall from grace.

Then there is the excellent use of music, written and chosen by Clemence Williams, the director’s sister. In the first half it helps set the mood, but later it signals the time shift — 130 years here rather than 18 — with the burbling groove of ‘I Feel Love’. Its most dramatic use comes straight after Basil’s murder, as Dorian belts out the showtune ‘I’m Gorgeous’. ‘When Dorian murders his friend, he is the most isolated from us,’ Williams explained. ‘And then after the song we applaud because he has seduced us again.’

Some may decry the play’s screens as a gimmick, but Williams doesn’t rest on the wow factor alone — he makes his technology serve the theme. In the later scenes, ‘Dorian and the narrator become the same person and he starts to lose control’, Williams said; the camera responds by chasing Dorian, drawing us into his paranoia. Increasingly, Dorian’s image is fractured across multiple screens as his persona cracks. The video presentation pushes the exploration of how identity is created and corroded, of the multiplicity of personae within each of us.

Ultimately, the justification for the show’s central artifice — one person playing all the parts — can be traced to Wilde himself. ‘Basil Hallward is what I think I am,’ he wrote, ‘Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be — in other ages, perhaps.’ This echoes Basil Hallward’s statement that ‘every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter’. Bravo to Williams, Snook and the Sydney Theatre Company team for giving us the most daring and decadent Dorian Gray yet, and leading us to rediscover what the novel truly is: a funhouse mirror view of Wilde’s soul.

– Darcy Sullivan, Press Officer, The Oscar Wilde Society

 

Sarah Snook as Dorian Gray

Photos by Marc Brenner

Joining the Oscar Wilde Society

Have you ever considered joining the Oscar Wilde Society? For those interested in the Irish author, the society provides a wonderful opportunity to meet interesting people and discover more about Oscar’s life and art.

We would like to share this article, written by a newcomer to the society about her first event, to give you a sense of what joining might mean for you. Of course, not every member can attend our events in the UK, but our publication, online meetings and other activities ensure every member has a rewarding experience.

A Serenity of Tolerance: Lunch at Magdalen College

Saturday 12 August 2023

Approaching the chattering Wildeans in the Chaplain’s Quad of Magdalen College, I was aware of my usual social anxiety. I had travelled from Wexford, Ireland, with a genuine interest. As an obscure novelist working on nineteenth-century historical fiction, I have spent the last year studying Oscar and Speranza. But this was the thirtieth anniversary lunch of the Oscar Wilde Society, and there have been so many books and scholarly works written on Oscar Wilde that I was certain that my relative ignorance would be swiftly exposed.

I need not have feared. I was immediately made welcome. Robert Whelan, editor of The Wildean, went out of his way to greet me, pressed a glass of Pimms into my hand and introduced me to a lovely lady called Cressida Battersby (Ian’s wife), a fan of Oscar Wilde’s comedies, a Wildean since the society’s inception, and an Oxford resident. Oxford, Oscar’s alma mater, beautiful and culturally vibrant, was naturally the perfect setting. I had earlier explored the College, though sadly Oscar’s former room was out of bounds. Magdalen combines Gothic and Palladian architecture in golden stone. It’s very quiet. Once inside the archway the modern world has gone. Statues stare down at a lawned and cloistered quad; a medieval chapel has the aroma of antique oak. The college lies beside the River Cherwell; punts glide past, while beyond a wrought iron gate a footbridge leads to a deer park fringed with tangled trees.

Across the road is the Oxford Botanic Garden; as I strolled amongst roses, lilies, and sunflowers (pondering Frank Miles), I was caught in a shower, and dashed into the glasshouses to admire the ‘nénuphars’ and carnivorous plants. But the sun shone again in the Chaplain’s Quad as Ian Battersby opened proceedings with a reading. Oscar’s poem, ‘Magdalen Walks’, revels in the exquisite setting. ‘Little white clouds are racing across the sky’ – and so they were! Later versions of the poem break off before the end, but Ian gave us the original, which descends on a mournful note. ‘And even the light of the sun will fade at the last’, he declaimed, and as he did so the sun duly went behind a cloud. The lunch, in a panelled dining room, was delicious: a leisurely three courses accompanied by wine. I enjoyed some fascinating conversations. It seemed that everyone had become a ‘Wildean’ in their own way: reading the fairy stories in their youth or thrilling to the gothic tragedy of Dorian Gray; through delight in Oscar’s epigrams and comedies; admiring his flamboyant self-expression and his courage in flouting the conventions or sympathising with his suffering in prison and the stark sadness of De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

As a doctor in my ‘day job’, I was delighted to meet Fergus O’Connor, an ENT surgeon and expert on the polymathic career of Sir William Wilde. I had my little brag about discovering the great man’s signature on an 1847 hospital report that I had bought in Dublin. Few people outside the OWS would have considered this a bragging matter! Fergus and I shared our enthusiasm for the golden age of medicine and surgery in mid- nineteenth-century Dublin. I learned that the disease that killed Oscar (cholesteatoma, a chronic infection of the ear, complicated by meningitis) had originally been detailed in William Wilde’s seminal textbook of aural surgery, and must have been present for many years before Oscar’s imprisonment. The account of it originating from a fall whilst in prison must be false. We shared an appreciation of the Royal Irish Academy where Fergus had studied a collection of William Wilde’s correspondence. He had also obtained some copies of prescriptions written by William Wilde and his son, Henry Wilson. Sadly, the Dublin pharmacy where they were dispensed, though still trading, has been taken over by a modern chain.

Robert also introduced me to our Honorary Patron Eleanor Fitzsimons. I was so excited to meet her: the author of Wilde’s Women and an authority on Speranza! I even chatted to a gentleman sporting a green carnation who had spent his early childhood in Wexford: he had originally lived a mere mile from where I live now. He had been told by his grandmother that he was related to Oscar Wilde’s family. It might have been on the Elgee side; Forth Mountain is in the parish of Rathaspeck where Richard Waddy Elgee, Speranza’s uncle, was once the rector.

I also enjoyed chatting across the table with Vanessa Heron, Secretary of the OWS [now its chair] and editor of Intentions, who kindly invited me to write this article. There were many others whom I did not get to speak to, but who would have all been fascinating in their own way: the lady who lives in an apartment in The House Beautiful in Tite Street; the gentleman who has a collection of the papers of Robert Ross; the writer and dandy Darcy Sullivan in a gorgeous blazer of cream brocade; a lady from Wisconsin and a gentleman from India.

The keynote speaker Aaron Eames had written a PhD thesis on Oscar Wilde’s biographies of the early twentieth century. Quoting Oscar’s epigram ‒ ‘Every great man nowadays has his disciples, and it is invariably Judas who writes the biography’ ‒ and discussing the works of R. H. Sherard, Lord Alfred Douglas, Frank Harris, Boris Brasol, St John Ervine and Hesketh Pearson, he provided ample evidence that, whether Judas or not, the biographers were fated to reveal as much about themselves as about their subject. [Note: You can see his talk in the video below.]

What was clear is that time has not lessened anyone’s interest; Oscar draws us together as we share an affectionate fascination, each of us viewing his enigma in our own way. If R. H. Sherard, for all his biases and inaccuracies, described something about Oscar well, it was the sense of bonhomie which he could create: the ‘most wonderful talker that the world had ever seen… the radiant youth… gave me, by the things he said, my first lesson in the acquirement of that serenity of tolerance towards one’s fellows without which the life of a man of letters is one of constant fretfulness. To delight in the successes of others as a gain to the commonwealth, to love art for art’s sake and not for the valuations of the bourgeois, to console oneself in obscurity with the radiance of brother-artists ‒ to these things he pointed as the true viaticum on the literary way.’ A literary society that preserves this ‘serenity of tolerance’ is something to be treasured in these philistine days. For those who tremble faun-like on the threshold, unsure whether to enter in: DO! I certainly look forward to future events.

MAYBELLE WALLIS

What Yellow Book Did Oscar Wilde Carry?

When Oscar Wilde was arrested at the Cadogan Hotel in 1895, he was reported to be carrying  a copy of The Yellow Book . This notorious periodical, identified with Decadence, was published by John Lane and art-directed by Aubrey Beardsley, whose association with Wilde in the public mind led to his reluctant firing by Lane.

For decades, however, both Wilde and Beardsley biographers have asserted that the book was not a copy of The Yellow Book. Simon Wilson, art historian and former Tate curator, addressed this in a definitive article for The Wildean 58. Nonetheless, the question has been viewed as unsettled by many, and was the subject of a recent extended correspondence in the Times Literary Supplement.

On 18 January 2023, the TLS published this letter from Wilson, which sets the record straight. We post the letter below to clarify what yellow book Oscar Wilde was carrying on his arrest. To read Simon Wilson’s full article, you can order The Wildean 58 for £10 by contacting Robert Whelan.


As Oscar Wilde tells us, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. I have thus refrained from intervening in the correspondence which has been taking my name in vain for some weeks. But enough is enough. My original article in The Wildean (58, January 2021) systematically established from entirely convincing contemporary evidence that when Wilde emerged under arrest from the Cadogan Hotel he was carrying under his arm a copy of the Yellow Book. It also established, in comprehensive detail, that the whole idea that he was carrying some other yellow covered book was much later planted into the historical record by the publisher of The Yellow Book, John Lane, in an attempt once and for all to dissociate Wilde from his firm and in particular from The Yellow Book in which, and in his art editor Aubrey Beardsley, Lane had a very substantial investment. Wilde’s two most important early biographers, Frank Harris (in 1911) and Robert Sherard (in 1916), both close to him, mention that he had the Yellow Book with him, as does Wilde’s sometime lover the poet Richard Le Gallienne in his memoir The Romantic 90s (1929).

In my article, I further demonstrated, at some length, how Lane’s lie succeeded to an extent he could hardly have dreamt of, and which he did not live to see. The story first appears in a hagiographical biography of Lane by his protégé Lewis May, published in 1936, eleven years after Lane’s death, and paid for by a specific bequest to May in Lane’s will. This was picked up by Wilde’s postwar biographer Montgomery Hyde, whose 1948 volume on Wilde in the Penguin Famous Trials series found a wide audience. Every subsequent biographer of Wilde and Beardsley simply repeated Hyde or each other. Lane’s ultimate error was to gild the lily by adding the apparently killer circumstantial fact that the book in question was Pierre Louÿs’s Aphrodite. The fact that it could not have been, as it appeared the year after Wilde’s arrest, was first pointed out in 1998 in the excellent book by the Beardsley scholar Stephen Calloway that accompanied the V&A Beardsley exhibition of that year. Calloway nevertheless concluded that what it was “may never now be discoverable”. And so John Lane’s barefaced, self-interested lie continued to hold sway until my exposure of it. Distressingly, and pace the gallant Iain Ross among your correspondents, it apparently continues in some quarters to do so.

Simon Casimir Wilson
London

Aphrodite
Pierre Louys’s Aphrodite wasn’t published until 1896.

Merlin Holland Interview

An insightful interview with Merlin Holland, Oscar Wilde’s grandson and an hon. patron of the Oscar Wilde Society, has been published on The Shortlisted’s website. In it, writer Silvia Pingitore discusses with Merlin issues such as homosexuality, Wilde’s reputation, cancel culture and Merlin’s personal relationship with his grandfather and his work.

Interview with Oscar Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland

In the News: Lost Isola Plaque

The Sunday Telegraph of London carried a story about a portrait of Oscar Wilde’s younger sister Isola, who died age nine, which has been found after being lost for 128 years following the bankruptcy sale of Wilde’s possessions in 1895. This treasured portrait, once displayed in the author’s home in Tite Street, Chelsea, has now resurfaced. Author Rob Marland has written about this for the new issue of The Wildean, and the Sunday Telegraph reports on it.

Sunday Telegraph article

Changes to Oscar Wilde Society Committee

The chairman of the Oscar Wilde Society, Don Mead, has notified the membership of changes to the committee. Here is his letter of 13 November 2023:

Dear Fellow Wildean –

I have had the honour of being, for many years (since 2002) the Chairman of a renowned literary society. The Oscar Wilde Society has the highest possible reputation and I am privileged to be part of it.

As I am approaching my 95th birthday, the time has come for me to tell you that with the agreement of the Committee I shall retire as Chairman at the end of the year. I will continue my involvement with the work of the Society in a non-executive capacity as Vice-President and as a Consultant Editor of The Wildean.

My successor as Chairman from 1st January 2024 is Vanessa Heron. She will step down from her current position as Hon. Secretary but continue to edit Intentions.

Elizabeth Murphy will take over as Hon Secretary and continue to be Data Protection Officer. Robert Whelan will continue to be Deputy Chairman.

Vanessa joined the OWS in 1993 and has served at various times as Hon Treasurer and as Hon Secretary – as she is now. She was appointed Editor of Intentions in 2016. She is well known to many of you from OWS events and through her involvement with the Society’s Facebook pages and Twitter/ X.

I warmly welcome her appointment.

With my best wishes –

Donald Mead
Chairman, The Oscar Wilde Society

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Coming to The Haymarket in 2024

Society members who attended the Oscar Wilde West End Walk on 22 April will remember the beauty of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, where we drank champagne in the Oscar Wilde Room. You can see it in the video on our YouTube page.

The Haymarket saw the first performances of A Woman of No Importance in 1893 and An Ideal Husband in 1895.

Next January, the Haymarket will be continuing its long Oscar Wilde tradition by presenting a stunning production of The Picture of Dorian Gray starring Sarah Snook (Succession). This modern reworking of Oscar Wilde’s brilliant story is adapted and directed by Sydney Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Kip Williams. Through the explosive interplay of video, an intricately choreographed collection of on-stage cameras bring to life a dizzying 26 characters.

The production will begin previews from 23 January 2024. The play will be produced by the Michael Cassel Group, Adam Kenwright and Theatre Royal Haymarket. Watch this space for booking details!

We carried the following review of this production in Oscariana 82, June 2022, when it was in Adelaide.


The Picture of Dorian Gray

Adapted and directed by Kit Williams Performed at the Adelaide Festival – 13-20 March 2022

With dazzling stagecraft and an extraordinary solo performance by Eryn Jean Norvill, this screenshot of Dorian is a Wilde ride.

‘The first duty of life is to assume a pose,’ Oscar Wilde declared, ‘what the second duty is no one yet has found out.’ As his biographer Richard Ellmann noted: ‘Wilde had been much concerned with images. He had painted self-portrait after self-portrait.’ He was referring to Oscar’s early (soon abandoned!) experimentation with beards, his curled hair and foppish costumes – all of Wilde’s visual ripostes to the punitive drabness and prudery of Victorian England.

Then, as now, to be outlandish is a statement, an assertion ‒ even a declaration of war to one’s enemies ‒ and Oscar Wilde’s novella The Picture of Dorian Gray, published in 1890, proposed such a challenge. It was also a critique of the aestheticist ideas that he enthusiastically upheld, and a queer message through the flames that would haunt him later at his trial.

In Wilde’s story – moral fable, satire, and Gothic horror yarn, all in one ‒ Dorian Gray, the beautiful young man, painted by Basil Hallward and lured into a life of hedonistic excess by Lord Henry Wotton, makes a pact to exchange his soul for perpetual youth and beauty. In a reversal of the usual state of things, his portrait will age and perish but he never will. It doesn’t end well, but Wilde, as moralist, wants to have a few words each way. Summing up his novella he said: ‘All excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment.’

In Kip Williams’ thrillingly imaginative and visually gorgeous adaptation for the Sydney Theatre Company, Wilde’s spellbinding narrative is both conscientiously maintained and given a currency and shrewd commentary which transforms and renews the original.

When Wilde was working on the story he admitted in a letter that he was having trouble. ‘I am afraid it is rather like my own life – all conversation and no action. I can’t describe action: my people sit in chairs and chatter.’

In this production (one of four monologues in this year’s festival performed by women) the brilliant Eryn Jean Norvill presents, with a marvellous range of video and live feed inclusions, twenty-six characters ‒ many of whom sit in chairs and chatter with each other in real time.

From her first appearance on the huge vertical screen, Norvill captures us. Surrounded by a black-shrouded army of videographers, dressers and others (I counted thirteen at the final curtain) she changes costume, position, screen size and character for two captivating hours. Williams has created an extraordinary display of stage logistics but it is all, and only, to serve the live performer.

Norvill commands the stage as the narrator, as the photogenic Dorian Gray, the painter Hallward with sideburns, and the moustachioed Lord Harry. Her delivery is splendid and Williams’ text wisely highlights the cadences and pleasures of Wilde’s elegantly easy prose. Rarely do characterisations step into stereotype except for comedy – in the puppet show of Sybil Vane’s rendering of Juliet, for instance, and in the astonishing illusion of a dinner party scene where Norvill, as Lord Harry, sits beside a long table with four different video images of herself satirising every variety of upper class twittery.

There is much to admire about this production which, having lost time to the Covid closures, is surely still destined for further international festival performances. Designer Marg Horwell has created a sumptuous floral décor around Dorian, enhanced in the vibrant technicolour of David Bergman’s video, delectably lit by Nick Schlieper, and enveloped by composer and sound artist, Clemence Williams’ evocative, at times quirky, score.

As Dorian Gray descends further into the lower depths, it is not art for art’s sake, but glamour for celebrity’s sake. His puckish blonde locks become a pompadour of impudence, Horwell’s costumes shift from page boy whites to lurid Liberace-stylings, or maybe Hip-Hop imperial, with gaudy sequinned cloaks to match his dagger.

When he admires his lavish excess on his iPhone as if in a mirror, Photoshop helps us visualise the distortions of the portrait hidden behind the curtain in his apartment. It is a witty premise. While Wilde’s character exchanges his soul to preserve himself as a work of art, Williams’ reading is more damningly banal. His Dorian is seeking immortality on Tik Tok and Instagram.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a depiction for our times while reminding us of the brilliance of its author. Kip Williams and Eryn Jean Norvill have created memorable art by holding up a video mirror to show just how far our vulgar narcissism has trashed it.

Eryn Jean Norvill as Dorian Gray. Photo Credit: Daniel Boud
Eryn Jean Norvill as Dorian Gray. Photo Credit: Daniel Boud

MURRAY BRANWELL

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, adapted by Kip Williams for the Sydney Theatre Company, was performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide, South Australia, from 13 to 20 March 2022 as part of the Adelaide Festival; then at the Roslyn Packer Theatre in Sydney from 28 March to 14 May 2022. This review first appeared in The Australian, 15 March 2022, and is reproduced by kind permission.

Call for Papers: MLA 2024 – Wilde on Tour

The Oscar Wilde Society invites abstracts for a special session at the 2024 MLA Convention in Philadelphia, PA.

This panel will consider Oscar Wilde’s travels abroad from his early departure from Ireland to his travels in America with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company to his final exile in Paris, and many meaningful tours and trips in between. As an Irishman living in London, Wilde’s identity was marked by outsider status even before there was controversy regarding his sexual identity. His own travel to Greece during his undergraduate career also nearly resulted in being kicked out of Oxford University. In establishing his career, he gave an American lecture tour, reportedly stating upon arrival that he had nothing to declare but his “genius.” After returning to Britain, Wilde continued traveling and writing about his experiences overseas as well as spinning stories about people—often travelers themselves—who shake convention with outsider perspectives.

Wilde’s scandals were marked by forcible travel to prison and ultimately in exile to Paris, where his grave rests today. As the first special session organized by the Oscar Wilde Society, which is based in London, the theme of tour and travel is particularly meaningful as we, like Wilde, will travel to Philadelphia to share our perspectives.

In order to align with the MLA presidential theme is Celebration: Joy and Sorrow, we are particularly interested in papers that address travel as an occasion of joy and sorrow in Wilde’s
life and art, which may include such sorrows and joys as:

  • Wilde’s exile from London
  • Constance Wilde and the family’s move to Continental Europe
  • The reception of Wilde’s work overseas
  • Wilde’s forceable movement between prisons during his incarceration
  • Travel as theme and metaphor in Wilde’s work
  • Exoticism in “The Sphinx,” Salome, and other works
  • Wilde as Irish expatriate
  • Wilde’s travels to Greece
  • Wilde and Sex Tourism
  • Wilde’s lectures in America, particularly including Philadelphia
  • Wilde’s travels with and away from his family
  • The intersection of racial and LGBTQ+ identities surrounding Wilde’s travel
  • Wilde as a model for LGBTQ+ travel and tourism
  • Any other topic connecting Wilde, his work, his family, or his immediate circle to travel as an occasion of joy or sorrow, celebration or despair.

Please submit a 300-word abstract and a short bio by March 20th, 2023, to Sandra M. Leonard at sleonard@kutztown.edu.

For more information about the MLA conference, click here.

CSC Podcast: Celebrating Oscar Wilde

CSC Poscast

This is a live recording of CSC’s Classic Perspectives talkback celebrating the legacy of Oscar Wilde with playwright and director Moisés Kaufman and LGBTQ+ historian Andrew Lear.

Listen Now