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Dorian Gray on stage

Strong acting and a contemporary staging update Oscar Wilde's warning supernatural story

In a world obsessed with selfies, social media profiles and cosmetic surgery, Oscar Wilde’s warning story of a man whose ever-youthful appearance hides his darker nature seems as relevant as ever.

Daniel Goode as Basil and Jonathan Wrather as Lord Henry

The Picture of Dorian Gray is at The Capitol, Horsham until Sat 4 May with Jonathan Wrather (best known as bad guy Pierce Harris in Emmerdale and Joe Carter in Coronation Street) in the role of Lord Henry Wotton.

All three leads are strong. Gavin Fowler’s Dorian evolves from fond and fidgety young friend into hedonistic heartbreaker then self-assured evil-doer with flashes of panic along the way.

Gavin Fowler as Dorian Gray

Jonathan Wrather shows cynical and pleasure-seeking Lord Henry (with the lion’s share of the witty lines) unravel convincingly with age and the effects of his lifestyle as – due to supernatural intervention – his protege Dorian does not. Daniel Goode is moving as he conveys artist Basil’s crushed disappointment at the coldness of the muse he once idolised, perhaps loved.

This is a stylish, contemporary production, not set in a particular time but with costumes that loosely allude to the Victorian era, when it was written. In another update, two of the male characters are women instead in the play.

The set remains static – beginning as the faded grandeur of an artist’s studio in an upper class home   but, with a few key props and subtle lighting changes, becoming clubs, a hospital and the backstage of a theatre. An effective lighting touch also dramatically illuminates a cabinet with weapons at certain points, foreshadowing violence later in the story.

A shadowy tableaux is effective in representing a debauched party as Dorian slips further from hedonism to immorality. This scene and, again, good use of lighting, help retain the Gothic tone of the novella.

Having a very poor sense of smell I relied on my husband to tell me that aromas feature cleverly in certain scenes to enhance atmosphere, for instance an opium den fug.

As for the titular portrait itself, reflecting Dorian’s real age and sins, well it’s a neat trick, with more than a hint of the supernatural at the dramatic ending.

Dorian Gray is Wilde’s only novel and my husband, who had read it fairly recently, liked that the adaptation (by Sean Aydon, who also directs) gave it greater pace. It’s a wordy start but the action picks up as the play progresses, particularly in the second half.

There’s a wonderfully chilling scene of transition as a previously panicky Dorian stands calmly stirring his tea and distancing himself from a tragedy that Basil has rushed to console him over.

The next time I hear someone quip “have you got a portrait in the attic?” to complement someone on their youthful looks, I’ll certainly shudder.

 The Picture of Dorian Gray is at The Capitol, Horsham from 29 April to Sat 4 May, including matinees on the Wed and Sat. Tickets are from £21.50. thecapitolhorsham.com

See an interview with Jonathan Wrather here.

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