Mimi Launder reviews the National Youth Theatre’s modern take of The Picture of Dorian Gray
Moral outcry met Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray when it was first published in the 1890s. In the book, Dorian Gray’s portrait is painted by an artist, who in turn introduces Dorian to a seedy new world. Dorian becomes increasingly adored, vain and self-obsessed whilst never seeming to age. Locked away, his portrait ages for him. Any attempt to recreate this scenario by the National Theatre in their “radical retelling” was going to be tricky.
Selfie, staged by Brad Birch and the NYT REP Company, was intriguing from the opening of its electrical curtains (yes, computer-generated) and their reveal of a timeless set. A gold-framed mirror, reminiscent of Wilde’s London, is central on the stage and in the plot. On its glass, a rolling series of selfies from the so-called “me generation” complete with wide eyes and pouting lips flicker. We are forcefully reminded that this is a modern, young company‘s interpretation of the original Victorian tale: the characters’ chatter is littered with ‘slang’ and Dorian’s portrait is not on canvas but, of course, on an iPad.
The production retains the selfishness, greed and delusion of the characters of the novel, but lacks the subtlety of its writing. Hipster London is presented with a heavy hand; the endless nightclub scenes blur and by the last half an hour the plot becomes unfathomable. At times it felt like the vain and boring conversations instead of being satirical exposures of a degenerate society, were actually symptoms of confused, laborious writing. Its unexpected length drained the audience of the memory of its brighter first half.
However, the play did manage to give a company of young actors rigorous training and skill in bringing a rambling script to life. Dorian Gray (Kate Kennedy) fills the stage with vivacious and magnetic personality. Her friend Harry (Dominic Grove) injected the show with much-needed laughter, wit and life, and was one of the most watchable on stage. The whole cast was strong, from the compassionate portrayal of Hope Vane (Iqra Rizwan) to the heart-wrenching, yet believable downfall of Sybil Vane (Ellie Bryans). Between the fluctuating musical scene changes and the plotless conversations, the cast gave the audience something to enjoy.
Selfie was full of potential with its talented, young cast, a set brimming with technological wizardy, and timeless source material from Oscar Wilde. But its confused new setting, plot changes and unbelievable characters, flattened the production into the two dimensions that Dorian Gray so criticised.
Selfie is on at the Ambassadors Theatre until 26th November.
Featured image credit: Peter Chiapperino