Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Alfred Enoch and Russell Tovey enliven a digital take on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray

“People say there’s no dark side to social media”

What A Carve Up! proved a highlight of the theatre industry’s pivot to online work over the last year, the creative team really probing into what could be done differently, more effectively, through the digital medium. So it is little surprise to see them reunite to tackle Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

A co-production by the Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre, Oxford Playhouse and Theatr Clwyd, directed by Tamara Harvey and written by Henry Filloux-Bennett, Wilde’s tale is lifted wholesale into the 21st century and immersed in the world of social media. For what is a modern-day equivalent of a portrait if not one’s Instagram profile…

It’s a canny move that shifts notions of morality into the way we present our online selves as carefully curated model images, disguising the shiftiness behind the filters. Fionn Whitehead’s Dorian is a university student killing time in lockdown by flirting shamelessly with anything with a pulse and when given the opportunity of social media stardom – at a price – does so out of boredom as much as anything.

And the way the story unfolds here calls back a little to Carve Up. Starting at the end, Stephen Fry’s interviewer grills certain characters on their involvement with the tragically deceased Dorian and evidence is engagingly presented with texts, video chats, YouTube vids and Insta stories piecing together a humane tale of how corrosive social media can be, devil or no devil.

Alfred Enoch is wonderful as the louche and perpetually horny Henry Wotton, he brings a real erotic charge to his scenes with Dorian, and there’s intriguing work from the little-seen Russell Tovey as Basil and Emma McDonald’s floaty Sibyl, a social media star for the ages as she crashes and burns. Cleverly reworked and imaginatively put together and Wildean to its core, down to the witty final flourish.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
The Picture of Dorian Gray is streaming until 31st March

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