Dublin Theatre Festival: Review - The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Abbey stage has been pared back to the walls for this new adaptation of Oscar Wilde's darkest parable. This huge space is not empty but rather filled with a variety of props that create the sense of a play within a play. And at a free-standing microphone centre stage, a man in black tie announces 'all art is quite useless'. Welcome to the world of Dorian Gray.
When we first meet him, this 20-year old is convincingly gauche and callow, flattered by attention of the portraitist Basil Hallward and his most devilishly persuasive friend Lord Henry Wotton, who encourage the pretty boy to make a Faustian pact for eternal youth.
Blackmail, provoking suicides, murder . . . once he has started down his path of desultory destruction, Dorian never seems to have to face the consequences. His exterior may be ever gilded, but his innards blacken.
We soon learn you should be careful what you wish for. And director and adaptor Neil Bartlett should have been careful what he wished for too.
This production about the dangers of superficiality is quite the most marshmallowy superficial theatre imaginable.
Riddled with Bartlett's parlour tricks, it hinges on the power of suggestion. The extensive company are used as a chorus, speaking in their own accents through upright microphones to serve as narrator and conscience, then adopting posh British accents to play their parts of society ladies and various staff.
The audience is acknowledged throughout, performed to. It's the theatre, darling.
This is certainly a unique approach to putting Dorian on the stage and Bartlett has let his imagination go wild. The backstage is brought forward, the fourth wall demolished.
And there are moments, a few, when the production is stripped bare of the gimmicks providing tantalising glimpses of real sincerity.
Jasper Britton's Henry Wotton is a particularly compelling performance and Tom Canton's Dorian convincingly journeys from unsophisticated boy to drug-addicted killer. Kandis Cook's costumes are quite staggering.
But this is such a camped up rendering of such a sinister fairy tale, the serious is made very slight.
And the end result feels brittle and empty, with as much substance as a helium filled balloon.