We rarely relish shooting a mosquito with an elephant gun, but having sat through this barely competent retelling of Oscar Wilde’s great Gothic fable, it feels like the only choice possible. Dorian Gray at the Riverside Studios is an interminable 95 minutes, which somehow manages to eschew every single ingredient that made the original novella so pungent and eternally relevant. There is no sex, no horror, no magic, no wit.
It’s almost uncanny that a story about a young man losing his soul in the bordellos and opium dens of fin-de-siècle Victorian London could be so thoroughly tedious. Perhaps there’s a picture of the cast in the director’s attic that is funny and fresh and full of joie de vivre. God knows, what’s up there on stage is as rotten as a nine month old corpse.
It’s truly a shame, because the production has – until now – been notable for the stage debuts of a pair of young actors who hail from two of the great acting dynasties: Daisy Bevan (of the Redgrave clan) and Jack Fox (of the Fox set). But then it just goes to show: blue blood is no substitute for talent and hard graft. Not that their limp performances are entirely their fault. Fox is hopelessly miscast as Dorian Gray, looking about 40 but acting as if he’s 14 (think Robin Williams in Jack). Bevan meanwhile is handed an atrociously underwritten part and most of her lines that aren’t ill-chosen Shakespearean quotes are then sabotaged by one of the worst sound designs you will ever hear. Both actors can and will be better: Fox will no doubt go on to become a very accomplished fop, while Bevan can probably shape up into a decent leading lady.
Yet they aren’t the worst actors up there. La framboise d’or has to go to Fenton Gray as a music hall impresario disguised for, some odd reason, as a dirty Santa. He’s there at the play’s nadir, the gripping climax of the first act when – believe it or not – Dorian sits down to read a book (talk about a cliff-hanger). Fenton Gray then strides on stage to twirl his sparkly red cape and tell the audience that we can find champagne and oranges at the bar (we couldn’t). He might as well have directed us to the merch in the gift shop while he was at it.
However it’s just this sort of inverse coup de theatre that points us to the real villain of the piece: writer-director Linnie Reedman. Even her job title gives away her total misunderstanding of what this play should be. There is already one writer of this story – his name is Oscar Wilde. And his dialogue was actually perfectly fine, even though admittedly it didn’t include any inexplicable uses of modern swearing.
Reedman’s Dorian Gray at the Riverside is not her first attempt to slash Wilde’s great canvas to ribbons, but hopefully it will be her last. What she’s managed to achieve here is substantially less impressive than a school play.
Dorian Gray is on at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith until 10th May 2014. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.