Dorian is an innovative and enjoyable interpretation, which succeeds in elevating itself to the standard of professional theatre

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.


  1. Just a quick correction, it’s John Askew, not Eskew :)

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  2. Once again Nouse, you astound me. Who had the idea of letting this writer review when she has never been in the Barn before. Stars are relative – even if Dorian was great it could have been the worst thing this year. The quality of reviewing in this paper has become a sad affair. If you don’t go to the theatre, or like seeing student productions why the hell review them?

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  3. I’m sorry that you found the quality of my review disappointing. I would, however, like to point out that I see professional theatre regularly and at no point implied that I lacked interest. I agree that in theory stars should be relative, but wouldn’t that mean having the same reviewer at every single production? Not only would that be unfeasible but I think you’ll find that there’s an issue of ‘relativity’ in all journalistic reviews, professional or amateur.
    As it happens I, alongside other writers for this section, am just trying to improve my skills in an area that I’m interested. With your evidently infinite experience, wouldn’t it be better for you to contact us directly with more constructive criticism rather than repeatedly posting antagonistic comments?
    In hope that the person hiding him/herself as an ‘Anon’ doesn’t undermine the weight of my review, I’d like to reiterate that with my previous involvement and existing interest in theatre, this was a truly fantastic production.

    Also, I’m a guy.

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  4. Good job it was bloody good, eh, Anon 2? Just seen it tonight, and it was one of the most ambitious and brilliant plays I’ve seen in the Barn in my time here. Hall and Clark were absolutely brilliant. Well deserved four stars, unlike some of the other plays Nouse keep handing out their stars to.

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  5. The thing is, Jonjo, as someone who used to review in the Barn I know that in the past the newspapers have chosen to try and use a small batch of people who are regulars to the Barn to try and keep that relativity between not only stars, but reviews also.

    Perhaps the best shout would be for Nouse to try and encourage some members to see lots of shows in the Barn and then ask them to review a couple of weeks afterwards, in order to garner some kind of measure of the quality of productions that come out of York’s performing community as then it is truly possible to award five stars (something that if you’re working against professional theatre would be nigh on impossible most of the time). Similarly, you can then award the other extreme – the single star – when appropriate too. It’s less a criticism of your review, I think, than of editorial decision-making.

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