The Picture Of Dorian Gray @ Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide 16/3/2022

When self-obsession and glut prevail, the cascading vortex towards oblivion is inevitable.

Oscar Wilde’s literary masterpiece, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is elevated to extraordinary heights in Kip Williams’ theatrical adaptation starring Eryn Jean Norvill. The pair have created a provocatively mesmerising and ostentatious experience. An experience embodying self-obsessed gluttony.

Remaining accurate to Wilde’s narrative, the focus turns to artistic transmutation. How can a century-old well-told story be recapitulated in a manner relevant to contemporary audiences? By transforming it into a monologue and having Norvill portray all twenty-six characters is how.

Together with Designer Marg Horwell, Video Designer David Bergman, Lighting Designer Nick Schlieper, Composer and Sound Designer Clemence Williams, and Assistant Director Ian Michael, Williams has devised a production that champions Norvill’s talent without detracting from the story. Pre-recorded and live video footage across five separate moving screens allow narrative progression. It captures the actions of an ensemble cast while only having one actor on stage at any given time. The entire concept is ingenious.

With black-clothed videographers, costume assistants, and stagehands in plain sight, Williams accomplishes stage engineering akin to a ballet. Working together with Norvill, their movements are perfectly synchronised. They do not detract attention from her even when they actually became part of the show for a brief moment. Then again, Norvill is so captivating it would be difficult to divert attention away from her.

Portraying the main character of a timeless, well-known story is challenging at the best of times. Imagine depicting twenty-six simultaneously for two consecutive hours. This is something Norvill does stylishly and with ease. Scenes with character interactions are particularly spectacular. For example, when the video recorded narrator has an argument with the live narrator. Or when Lord Harry attends a dinner party with five others. Norvill exudes pure professionalism and oozes talent.

In his novel, Wilde examines the association between self-worth and looks and the damage self-obsession can generate. With the advent of social media, these themes remain prevalent now. While Williams retains the performance as a period drama, modernisations such as a smartphone to filter Norvill’s face are interwoven to maintain a contemporary relevance while echoing Wilde’s original commentary. As Gray descends further into the depths of immoral self-indulgence, his wardrobe alters from reticent to glamorous. Such techniques at times add a comedy element but always sustain the intrigue.

Sydney Theatre Company’s adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray is a modern-day theatrical magnum opus. Fashioned from the minds of two of Australia’s finest artists, it is contemporary theatre at its finest.

Adelaide Festival By Anita Kertes

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