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Thrilling magic act saves show

EVEN if you have only a glancing memory of the story of Dorian Gray, potential theatre goers are going to wonder about two things: what's director/adaptor Neil Bartlett going to do about the painting, and how will he handle that ageing bit at the end?

Tom Canton plays the eponymous character, the man who never aged: the envy of his peers for his youth and beauty, the bane of those same contemporaries for his wasteful ways. Influenced by the off-hand but compelling dictums of Lord Henry Wotton (Jasper Britton), the young Gray, so easily led, comes to believe in Wotton's philosophy that immorality guarantees immortality.

Gray's soul is represented by the cast, 16 strong, who manage their omniscient duties whilst also playing specific characters.

The result is a satisfyingly active and full Abbey stage, with Bartlett's direction moving the players through the story as gracefully as dancers. They move set pieces, they enter and exit, all seemingly without taking their eyes off Gray for a second. Canton as Gray makes a convincing debut, all blond locks and doe eyes in the first act, and all furious inevitability in the second, despite a last-ditch effort to save that soul.

How he actually turned it over to the Devil is not entirely clear. Perhaps it is when Wotton indulges in the kiss he forces on Gray? This outburst of queerness seem more to assure the audience that the creators are aware of the subtext than to do anything to clarify it.

Violence

The play, apart from a few moments like this, proceeds as does all good Greek drama, shedding its blood and indulging in most of its violence offstage, with only our imaginations to draw conclusions.

Speaking of drawing. Far be it from this review to spoil those two big, tricky moments. Let's just say that the picture itself doesn't work so well -- there is really only so much projection an audience member can manage.

But the bit about the ageing is a coup de theatre as thrilling as the first time one sees a magician cut a lady in half. The largest part of that thrill is the uncertainty of how they did it.

Until 14 October


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