Venue: The Drama Barn
Runs: 3-5 February 2012
Director: James Soldan
Producer: Liz Cahill
Star Rating: ****
Standing in the -1°C chill outside York’s Drama Barn, I had little faith in Soldan’s student adaptation of Dorian Gray; doubting that it would lift the foul mood that I found myself in. As someone who had previously avoided all student productions, I had certain generalised preconceptions denoting amateur acting and offensive pretentiousness. Appealing to the typical nineteen year old male was the warning at the door of ensuing ‘strobe lights, loud music, explicit drug use and scenes of a sexual nature’ giving one a far more optimistic feeling.
Entering the barn to find the three, darkly clothed, multi-role narrators contorting themselves like statues, the dedication of those involved became instantly apparent. Illuminated by blue-filtered lights, the stage was menacingly strewn with torn papers, empty alcohol bottles and back-dropped by a curious combination of old monitors. Soldan transports Wilde’s novel to the 80s where Basil Hallward (Jonny Glasgow) has been transformed into a new-fangled film maker both infatuated and inspired by the beauty of History-of-Art graduate Dorian Gray (Connor Abbott).
The adaptation is at once hilarious whilst entirely dark and disturbing. Entering the brightly lit stage in a pair of black Ray Bans, Ryan Hall playing Henry Wootton wittily remarked that he thought it fully acceptable to ‘stare into an abyss if wearing Ray Bans’, drawing upon the cruel superiority of wealthy, glamorised drug users and the hedonism driving the characters throughout. Hall’s performance was enchanting, his character rendered despicably hateful yet simultaneously alluring in his eccentricity and self-destructive fearlessness. Aligned with Dorian in identifying the appeal of such a man, I felt complicit in his ultimate deceit and murder; experienced a bizarre sense of guilt after laughing at the ‘gay disco’, dance routine which resulted in the murder of Herman (John Askew).
Remarkably given the strength of particular characterisations, the cast is free of a compromising weak link. Demonstrating genuine promise, Helena Clark was exceptional not only in her vocal ability and evident range (playing both Fergus and Lady Victoria) but her physical ability to transform her own image into that of an old woman without the assistance of costume or makeup. Abbott’s self-conceited portrayal of Dorian Gray was equally exceptional, evoking a binary hatred and jealousy of the attractive figure. The commitment of the cast to heavy homoeroticism and drug use demonstrated a professionalism and bravery that must be commended. The convincingly jittery portrayal of the heroin-addict-Herman, highlighted the director’s meticulous attention to detail.
Innovative in every sense of the word; manipulating film, music, lighting and choreographed dance to fulfil all potential, Soldan’s production Dorian exceeded my expectations of a student play in elevating itself to the standard of professional theatre. As a ten-a-day smoker who was still slightly stifled by Hall’s incessant chain-smoking, my only point of concern would be for asthmatics to sit at the back and bring an inhaler.