The Picture of Dorian Gray, Reimagined, by Oscar Wilde, adapted by Nathan Farrow | Directed by Stephen Lloyd-Coombs

Genesian Theatre Company (http://www.genesiantheatre.com.au) | Genesian Theatre, Sydney | Until 19 March

The Picture of Dorian Gray, a classic of urban gothic fiction, has become embedded in our First-World psyche since it was first published in 1890. Oscar Wilde’s once controversial Faustian story of a young man giving his soul in return for eternal youth has been retold and reinterpreted in text, film, ballet, music and stage. Now it’s been reimagined by Nathan Farrow in workshop with The Genesian Theatre Company.

This rendering seems to take not just from the original novel, but also from the various movie adaptations.

Its themes of aesthetics over substance, the beauty of youth over the wisdom of age, and hedonism over prudence, resonate with our youth-obsessed culture. In the age of the selfie, it seems as though many would be willing to sell their souls for eternal youth, if it were possible. The story is the same but its trappings have been updated to our modern era.

Basil Hallward, the portrait artist of the original, is now Bas (Richard Mason), the movie director who casts the beautifully enchanting Dorian in his first movie. The hedonistic Lord Henry Wotton is now just Harry, played with perfectly predatory panache by Martin Portus. Sibyl (Ellen Wiltshire) has morphed from ingenue actress to street-wise pub singer. Alan Campbell, Dorian’s original chemist mate who becomes caught up in Dorian’s crimes, is now Allison (Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou).

Modernised settings include a pub with live music, movie sets, a TV studio, and even a crack den to convey the moral degradation into which Dorian sinks.

The updating generally works, but the dense and lengthy text would benefit from a ‘less is more’ approach.

It’s a mighty undertaking. Director Stephen Lloyd-Coombs, along with Roderick Van Gelder (lighting design) and Katelyn Shaw (sound design), valiantly attempt to create the myriad settings required. Actors and crew work hard at coordinating bodies, lights, sound, props and set, but the end result is a slightly awkward mish-mash of moving parts. The lighting, in particular, attempts innovation but misses the mark, the artistic effects often just turning the cast murky.

At a lengthy two-and-a-half hours, some serious script trimming would hone the show and heighten the tragedy. Perhaps this can happen during the run. As Lloyd-Coombs points out in his program notes, the “troupe of actors, in a mere space of weeks, have learnt lines and coped with daily script changes … This is an ever-changing, moving, and original work”.

Hopefully the glaring problems with forgotten and befuddled lines will also improve during the run (particularly by Mason).

But all of this is not to say that the production does not work. On the contrary, it is potentially a highly entertaining palette of wit, tragedy, philosophy and modern quips, a mixed canvas of gloss and matte. Most of the actors turn out solid and competent performances, particularly Portus, Wiltshire, Grigoriou, and, of course, the morally bankrupt but beautiful Dorian himself, Michael Yore.



Images: Grant Fraser.