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Must-see digital Dorian Gray benefits Watermill

Co-production by regional theatres

Pictire: Pip
Pictire: Pip

The Picture of Dorian Gray, in front rooms everywhere until March 31

REVIEW by Jon Lewis

IT’S not just the coronavirus that’s gone viral during the pandemic. Insta-influencers who have sold their souls to advertisers have emerged as new hate-figures after posing online in beach locations while the rest of us suffer confinement and furlough in lockdowns. Representing the phenomenon of the insincere YouTuber personality, we now have Henry Filloux-Bennett’s brilliant reinvention of Oscar Wilde’s Gothic horror character Dorian Gray, the young man whose features are forever youthful while his portrait ages horribly, hidden from sight.

Fionn Whitehead is excellent casting as the second-year Oxford English student whose online profile is raised
exponentially after he downloads a magical filter sent to him by an older, married, internet-savvy entrepreneur, Basil Hallward (Russell Tovey).

We see Gray reclining seductively in his student bedroom and living it up with his effete, wealthy fellow student, best friend and probable lover Harry (Alfred Enoch). Gray boasts about his lifestyle on social media sites for his idealised image of perfection.

Filloux-Bennett’s target is wider than the upbeat stories of beautiful people that are shared every day on the internet. Gray is not satisfied with the ephemeral hit given by his growing numbers of likes, followers and subscribers. His joyful personality unravels, and like a demagogue, he embraces the evils of internet misinformation and fake news.

The framework for the drama is an online interview with Harry, louche and over-relaxed in his posh drawing room, and an ageing socialite Lady Narborough (Joanna Lumley, an ab-fab performance) by an unnamed reporter (Stephen Fry) who is investigating the mysterious deaths of Gray, Hallward, and Gray’s 18-year-old girlfriend Sibyl (Emma McDonald, who Watermill
audiences might remember from A Midsummer Night’s Dream). A singer and actress, Sibyl is an innocent, used and abused by Gray, a fragile beauty whose future plans crumble after experiencing Gray’s savage rejection following a disastrous onstage
performance. McDonald, and Whitehead are mesmerising, especially in close-up.

Wilde fans will still recognise his witty one-liners, rethought for the internet generation whose dialogue Filloux-Bennett captures so well. He also infuses the narrative with observations about contemporary culture which are so on point. One of Lady Narborough’s throw-away lines mentions the current popularity of drag act Le Gateau Chocolat, an actor who appeared recently in Creation Theatre Company’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

This ravishing film, photographed and edited by Benjamin Collins, is a must-see, and a wonderful example of how British regional theatres can combine to beat Hollywood at its own game.

A Oxford Playhouse, The Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre, New Wolsey theatre and Theatre Clwyd co-production.

The Watermill will benefit from tickets for the digital production of The Picture of Dorian Gray sold through its box office.

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