The Tragedy of Dorian Gray, Drayton Arms Theatre review – ‘swinging adaptation of a queer parable’
★★★★☆ by Ifan Llewelyn
An era known for producing both style and art with a distinctly sordid edge, London in the nineteen-sixties is perhaps the perfect backdrop against which to set the well-trodden story of Dorian Gray. Writer-director Ross Dinwiddy’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s masterwork transports the tale of the charismatic yet corrupt young man and his mystical portraits to the youth-driven cultural revolution of Twiggy, The Beatles and Procol Harum.
The play opens at Basil Hallward’s (Christopher Sherwood) latest gallery opening, where the glitterati have gathered to gaup at his scandalous paintings. There, ducking from the enforced shmoozing, the artist happens to strike up a conversation with the 21-year-old husband of Oscar-winning actress ten years his senior, the titular Dorian Gray (Maximus Polling). His instant adoration for the boy’s beauty impels Basil to ask his permission to paint his portrait, a decision that would have dire consequences for both of them over the coming decade.
As Dorian’s vanity and fame-lust begin to ruminate following the attention generated by the portrait’s popularity – much to the dismay of Basil and besotted television scientist Alan Campbell (Conor Litten) – Henry Wotton (Jordan Louis) seizes the opportunity to mould a superstar. Driven by a need to be adored and admired, unhindered by a conscience, Dorian is free to become one of the era’s greatest musicians – his career bolstered by a sudden tragedy he had a hand in bringing about.
Jordan Louis’ portrayal of a wheeler-dealer Henry Wotton is compelling, delivering a persuasive performance as a geordie Addison Dewitt figure who’s devoted to the advancement of Dorian’s career at all costs. The evening’s standout performance comes from Sherwood as conflicted artist Basil Hallward, who brings an unmatched authenticity to the stage. Heather Alexander is also fantastic as an instantly iconic and deliciously antagonistic gossip columnist.
While playing the famed literary figure who is pretty on the outside and putrid on the inside is no easy feat, Maximus Polling brings an endearing quality to the role. His turn as Dorian Gary is beguiling and demonstrates great skill in rendering the character’s journey from a wide-eyed innocent to an immoral monster.
Though the production takes an unfortunate turn in its second act, this swinging adaptation of a queer parable is an entertaining piece of theatre. Posing no great philosophical questions, the play is a thrilling jaunt through the decades, with enough intrigue to keep an audience fully engaged until curtain down.
The Tragedy of Dorian Gray is playing at the Drayton Arms Theatre, SW5 until Saturday, 6th November. Tickets are available to purchase HERE.