Matthew Bourne's astounding reworking of Oscar Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, brings it bang into the 21st century: he figures the painting as an advertising billboard, shuffles genders (Lord Henry becomes Lady H, Sibyl Vane becomes a young male ballet dancer, Cyril), and incorporates a set design that references the most avant-garde of contemporary art: Damien Hirst, the Chapman brothers and Francis Bacon. "I'm simply attracted by the themes in Dorian Gray that people will recognise: the obsession with staying young and the depravity and corruption beneath perfection."
Dorian Gray is a very open adaptation of the novel, but it shares with it a stylistic flamboyance, a willingness to tackle uncomfortable cultural preoccupations and an engagement with the tendency of fame to corrupt beauty and create monsters. Ballet, perhaps more than any other medium, interrogates our ideas about youth and the body beautiful. Set in the image-obsessed world of contemporary art and politics, Dorian Gray is edgy, brutal and utterly compelling.
Bourne’s great talent as a storyteller is powerfully in evidence here. There is not a single movement that doesn’t have a narrative impact. Dance is a language and Bourne has an impressively prodigious vocabulary. In Dorian Gray dance speaks the language of celebrity culture: it is synthetic, brittle and sleazy. It is also powerfully seductive. The dancers are all superb, providing robust, confidently complex performances throughout. Richard Winsor, as Dorian, an icon of beauty and truth in an increasingly ugly world, dances with terrifying emotional credibility, leaving us in no doubt as to the spiralling downfal of his character. Equally brilliant are Richard Piper as Basil and Michela Meazza as Lady H. Between them the entire cast successfully create a compelling narrative of extravagance and moral drift in a world of self gratification and reckless pleasure.
Terry Davies' score provides the perfect soundtrack to Dorian's world. Harsh, repetitive and decadent, it drives the characters inexorably forward on their route to destruction. Darkly atmospheric it employs funky pulsating techno-beats and at times a tenderly lyrical piano-score. Les Brotherstone’s minimalist, aggressively urban set is equally exciting, rotating between bedrooms, nightclubs, galleries and theatres with impressive economy and credibility. The fast-track life of the celebrity clubber has never been so mesmerisingly alive on stage.
Film has been a powerful influence on Bourne’s work, from Alfred Hitchcock for Swan Lake through to Walt Disney for the Nutcracker. Here we might detect references to American Psycho, Closer and Blowup, Bourne demonstrating once again how very versatile he is at incorporating a wide range of vocabularies to tell the story.
The energy and creative imagination at the heart of this production is fantastically thrilling, Bourne produces a vision of Dorian Gray that Oscar Wilde would have at least recognised, and it is tempting to suggest applauded. This is an evening of dazzling exhibitionism and morally acute observations about the ways in which our contemporary obsessions with fame and celebrity corrupt us as a society. Flawlessly magnificent.