Theatre: A picture worth looking at
"Being normal is simply a pose," says Lord Henry Wootton shortly after meeting the exquisitely beautiful Dorian Gray, as he sets out quite deliberately to debauch the young man. It was, in part, Oscar Wilde's own credo when he wrote his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. But Wilde's seemingly simplistic interpretation of aestheticism led to even his art becoming a pose, a self-allowed licence for a kind of moral indecency which destroyed all around him. That Wilde was ultimately destroyed by the even more vicious amorality of his cold-hearted lover Lord Alfred Douglas was his personal tragedy.
Wonderland Productions in association with Bewley's Cafe Theatre have revived their production of the adapted novel, playing this time at the Viking Sheds Theatre in Clontarf in Dublin. Director Alice Coghlan has chosen to play the piece in traverse (a long passage between two sets of seating), and in the confined space it works extraordinarily well. There is no escape for false acting in such surroundings and the cast of three convey the truth of every passion, from contemptuous amusement through sexual desire and into the depths of terrified despair as Dorian lives his personal hell.
Having been granted his wish that a portrait of himself should carry the marks of his life's passage while his own looks remain untouched by experience, he falls into ever greater depravity, watched with greedy admiration by Wootton, and deepening fear by Basil Hallward, the man who painted the portrait on which the marks of Gray's dissipation intensify. The tragedy is inevitable, as the combination of self-disgust and terror of retribution lead to the seething cauldron boiling over.
It was 1890 when Dorian Gray was published. Wilde died only 10 years later, his last years an eerie and only slightly smudged mirror-image of his novel, in part due to his own self-pity, but even more to the Victorian hypocrisy which he and the aesthetic movement had set out to castigate.
Michael Winder plays Dorian Gray, Michael James Ford is Basil Hallward, and Simon Coury is Lord Henry Wootton in a really fine and passionately truthful production. Costumes are by Tara Jones-Hamilton and Inez Nordell, with sound by Alun Smyth.