Friday, 17 October 2014

Theatre Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Alchemic Order, London

It’s a Friday night in South East London and I’m standing at the door of an unmarked house, exchanging nervous glances with the stranger beside me. A few seconds pass and a mustachioed man answers the door, inquiring furtively if we wish to see Mr Dorian Gray (we do).

Samuel Orange as Lord Henry
This is the weird world of The Alchemic Order’s immersive adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novella – a world which director Samuel Orange (who doubles as a dominating Lord Henry Wotton) and set designers Feix & Merlin have lovingly crafted, by transforming a London townhouse. There are secret doors, mirrored ceilings and unexpected peepholes into rooms below. A columned structure in the garden is at once Sybil Vane’s theatre and the area from which the audience peer into Dorian’s (Jamie Walker) home, catching glimpses of his narcissistic and homoerotic dalliances with the man who plays his portrait (Tommy Fitzer) and his brutal murder of Basil Hallwood (Johannes Lundberg).

What suits The Picture of Dorian Gray to such a treatment is the story’s obsession with the sensual – we can actually smell strong fragrances, inhale the cigar smoke, touch the silk sheets which moments before a naked Dorian writhed under, enter the hazy atmosphere of a basement opium den. The performance shows an admirable attention to detail, and an acquaintance with the text bordering on fandom (similar to the adaptation of Sherlock Holmes I reviewed a few months ago). Its success is somewhat reliant on its novelty (the acting isn’t perfect and some scenes shine through more than others, just as in Wilde’s story) but this doesn’t make it gimmicky. It’s a Dorian Gray experience, a really decadent way to spend a Friday evening, and, on a good night like the one I went to, an engaged and responsive audience means the promenade style never feels awkward.

Fun, well-conceived and close to the text, I’d recommend the show to Wilde fans, Wilde novices and anyone who fancies a fun and different night out (you can even order drinks from the bar throughout the performance and at one point you’re offered an absinthe shot).

Jamie Walker as Dorian and Tommy Fitzer as the portrait

The Picture of Dorian Gray is running Wednesdays-Saturdays until 1st November.
Tickets cost between £37.50 and £47.50 and are available here. 

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