The Picture of Dorian Gray at the Arts Theatre
A new musical by David Reeves, inspired by Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.
There were twelve people on stage and nineteen in the audience. We outnumbered them, but only just. As each song finished, we were poised to clap, but none of us quite had the courage to let one hand fall upon another. Finally, as the play ended, the cast took things into their own hands by starting the clapping backstage. We joined in, gratefully.
Nevertheless, as we left the embarrassment of the auditorium behind us, I felt dissatisfied. On reflection, something far more important than the audience is missing from Dorian.
It has nothing to do with the performers. The quality of acting and singing is high and the professionalism of the cast shone through in difficult circumstances. Marcello Walton had a tough task on his hands, embodying the perfection of Dorian, but he excels in the role while Nicholas Pound is an unquestionably charismatic Lord Henry.
There is no doubting the intelligence of the lyrics either. Reeves has paid close attention to his source material. His primary achievement is to take this novel he admits to being 'profoundly' affected by and introducing us to its many dimensions.
Perhaps ultimately Reeves is too respectful of Wilde. This musical never seems to get its own wings. With the exception of the lilting melodies of the Romeo and Juliet sequence, the music sounded stodgy and repetitive. And, though intelligent, the lyrics are a trifle convoluted.
'Mine is beauty temporary, here till my first wrinkle,' sings Dorian. 'Experimentation,' roars Lord Henry, 'Live out the dream! Don't wonder later what might have been.' The sharpness of Wilde's wit is dulled. There are flickers of Sondheim - such as in the assonance of 'quell the inhibitions/oh to hell with inhibitions!' - but only flickers.
If Dorian lacks the wit of Wilde, it lacks too the decadence which is so important to the piece. There can be few tales which writhe more suggestively than that of Dorian Gray. And yet in this production, Lord Henry seduces Dorian through brushing back a stray hair over his ear and chastely patting his knee. Beyond this, there is no sense of Dorian's deepening descent into the waters of hedonism.
These two vital omissions - wit and decadence - sadly seal the fate of Dorian. The lack of one may be regarded as a misfortune - to lose both seems like carelessness.
Justin Somper, October 1997