Jonathan Wrather on Dorian Gray
The actor, who played Pierce Harris in Emmerdale, stars in a new stage adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novel, coming to Sussex
Jonathan Wrather is best known for starring as Joe Carter in Coronation Street and Pierce Harris in Emmerdale. His latest role is Lord Henry Wotton in a stage adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, coming to The Capitol, Horsham at the end of April.
Muddy caught up with him to talk about the production, selfie culture and playing baddies, as he took a break between performances… sitting up a hill in scenic Derwentwater in the Lake District!
How contemporary a take on the story is this adaptation?
Everyone knows the story, or some aspect of it. This is a very truthful, contemporised production. We’re not in a specific time or place but we allude to the Victorian era. The novel spans 18 years so it goes into a future even Oscar Wilde didn’t know about.
The set is rather beautiful, it has a sense of decay, of faded grandeur. There are sections where we allude to the passing of time with a movement piece showing Dorian Gray falling into the hedonistic lifestyle.
As a play it really bumps along. It’s a morality tale, Gothic horror and psychological drama in one.
The novel was controversial at the time, wasn’t it? But a modern day audience wouldn’t find the homoeroticism unusual.
Actually the hint of homosexuality wasn’t the most taboo aspect. Henry, my character, encourages Dorian to live a free life and give into temptation. There’s something rather admirable about it in a way but by the social norms of Victorian times it was rather scandalous, but Wilde keeps coming back to this hypocrisy of the time.
There’s a message about vanity and superficial appearances hiding the truth – do you think it strikes a chord with today’s ‘selfie’ culture?
Yes, that was one of the first things that struck me. On Facebook we have a manner and present a perfect image of ourselves and on social media you get to edit how you are portrayed but if you scratch the surface, underneath everyone’s pedalling like mad and has a back story.
The play is partly a morality tale. It also has something to say about how we view ourselves.
How do you find the switch from TV to stage?
I haven’t done a tour of this nature for quite some time and last time I didn’t have children. It has been quite a wrench and difficult arranging childcare. I’m loving doing a play though. Soap is very fast paced, sometimes you do it and it’s gone and you think ‘I wish I’d done it like that…’ I also love the camaraderie of touring.
You seem to be drawn to playing baddies on TV…
They tend to be slightly more complex roles and they’re easier to play because of that. They tend to be slightly more interesting too when someone is damaged. I think there are no ‘goodies’ either though – everyone has life experience, it’s never black and white.
Did you get any flack in real life for playing a character who controls and rapes his partner?
I didn’t get vilified on the street as some characters do. People were actually quite complimentary about how we dealt with it. We felt a responsibility to get it right. It’s a very serious issue. The writers let the relationship play out in real time.
In this play we’ve also plotted journeys – you see Henry at the beginning and at the end. I do like playing that duality.
How many portraits are there in the production to show Dorian’s secret decay?
Actually there are no portraits, there’s a device that alludes to what he sees when he looks at it, it’s a clever trick… I won’t spoil it…
Have you any favourite Wilde quotes?
Actually my character has lots of so-called aphorisms. They’re rather grand or clever but it’s what’s not said that is pertinent. I’m more of a Wilde fan now. It’s a very multi-layered piece, very dark. It’s a really good night out.
The Picture of Dorian Gray will be 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