The Picture of Dorian Gray is an extraordinary triumph of talent and theatricality. It is the very finest of entertainment involving a handsome young man and a portrait that becomes a mirror to his soul. The play shines a spotlight on a world obsessed with youth and beauty.
Dorian Gray is painted by his friend, artist Basil Hallward who is infatuated with his attractiveness. Through Hallward, Gray meets Lord Henry Wotton, an aristocrat who believes in pursuing hedonism. Gray is sold on Wotton’s life view. He is concerned that while his picture will remain youthful, he will age and his looks will fade. Gray makes a pact to sell his soul so that it is the painting that will weather and not him. That enables him (devoid of immediate consequences) to pursue a libertine and sinful life.
Originally written by Oscar Wilde in 1890, the novel has been skillfully adapted, condensed and modernised by Kip Williams, who also directs. The Picture of Dorian Gray showcases the sublime skills of Eryn Jean Norvill, who plays 26 characters in a captivating, tour de force outing. It is just her on stage for two hours without interval together with the crew and collectively they elevate the spectacle to the truly breathtaking.
Norvill seamlessly switches personas, time and again, while she is captured live on several video screens by up to five camera operators, all dressed in black. Hats off to video designer David Bergman. As she discards one wig and costume for another and yet another (credit to scenic and costume designer Marg Horwell), typical backstage crew – also dressed in black – are there with her to help the transition.
Sets too – at least one of which is quite large – appear and disappear in seconds. Puppet theatre also plays a part. All seems to be done effortlessly. I can scarcely imagine the amount of preparation that must have gone into perfecting the frequent movement. The choreography is outstanding.
Norvill is the unmistakable face of all this artistry and it her star that shines the brightest. She acts alongside herself in different guises frequently. As Dorian Gray she talks and interacts with the other characters quite conversationally … and to top it off she also narrates. I have not seen anything of the sort before. What transpires is awe-inspiring and redefines what is possible in a theatrical space when performers are matched with technical genius. Prepare to be mesmerised. I am still applauding.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (a Sydney Theatre Company production) is playing at Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne until 31st July, 2022.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- The Importance of Being Earnest (Malthouse Theatre) – theatre review
- A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (ACM) – theatre review
- West Side Story (Opera Australia) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.