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.
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.