NOTE: The following review dates from 27 August 2008 and this production's original dates at the Edinburgh International Festival.
It’s no surprise Matthew Bourne picked Edinburgh and its International Festival to launch what will likely be another of his bestselling ‘dancicals’. Sixteen years ago in the very same King’s Theatre his production of The Nutcracker had its premiere and signalled the beginning of a meteoric rise that would propel him to worldwide success.
Bourne’s new work - an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray – has far darker themes than most of his back catalogue: decadence, debauchery and narcissism for starters. It proves a hedonistic if not wholly satisfying experience.
Skilfully transposed to the present day with our protagonist a waiter turned perfume model (‘Immortal, pour homme’ the billboard reads), a few of Bourne’s trademark jokes are dropped into the mix: what else would Dorian’s bedside alarm play when 8am arrives but Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty? Richard Winsor is suitably electric as the beautiful anti-hero who – in today’s terms – becomes a celebrity, starts believing his own PR and ends up destroying himself.
Wilde’s artist Basil Hallward – who becomes infatuated with Dorian - is recreated here as a photographer (the untamed Aaron Sillis) and Lord Henry changes sex to become the arch-fashionista Lady H (the chic, strutting Michela Meazza). Nods to Damian Hirst and even Jonathan Ross provide a bit of light relief as does a brief Vaudevillian bed scene. Bourne’s long-time collaborator Lez Brotherston’s set provides deceptively simple depictions of Bourne’s world of indulgence and Terry Davies’ distinctive score adds to the sense of excess. As we’re presented with the transition through Dorian’s downfall, clothes become dirty and the music menacing.
The show has broken box office records at the International Festival and no doubt has a successful future ahead of it. The cast are strong and the choreography stylish yet the second act (Dorian’s downfall) feels loose and the audience are markedly less captivated. Uncharacteristically for Bourne, this show doesn’t end on a high, but that shouldn’t put you off what is a brave and dramatic adaptation of a disturbing story.
- Joe Pike