This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com
Oscar Wilde’s narcissistic fantasy of eternal youth has entered our collective consciousness to the extent that almost everyone knows the very simple story – handsome young man does a deal with the Devil so that his portrait ages whilst he stays young. However, if simplicity is a virtue in gaining awareness for the story, it proves to be the very opposite in forming the basis for two hours of theatre. Ruby in the Dust Productions have achieved some success in creating musical adaptations of classics such as The Great Gatsby, but, unfortunately, they have hit the rocks this time, largely because the slight story needs far too much stretching out and padding. Linnie Reedman opts for Grand Guignol rather than naturalistic style, but the sombre tone of her script, which shows only flashes of Wildean wit and makes repeated pretentious references to “the depths of man’s soul” and such tosh, hangs heavily like a dark veil over the whole production. The show could have received a considerable boost if it had turned out to be a real musical. Although credit is given to a composer/lyricist, in the event, all we get are a few dirges sung between scenes to give commentaries on events and, sadly, there are no songs integrated into the play either to illuminate Wilde’s themes or to develop the characters. Sung through musicals are quite common, but rarely do we find one that is close to being spoken through and how a few decent songs could have relieved the tedium resulting from much of the dialogue. The story’s homoerotic sub-text is given a prominence of which Wilde would have most likely approved. Jack Fox’s callow and vain Gray is lusted after by his portrait painter (Antony Jardine) and by Lord Henry (Joe Wredden), who turns into a Svengali figure, exerting a malign influence over him. Spurning the love that dares not to speak its name, Gray has an ill-fated dalliance with a promising young actress (Daisy Bevan, a VERY promising young actress) as he descends into the decadence of opium dens, brothels and, still worse, theatres. We never see the portrait at any of its stages of ageing and, whilst Gray’s appearance remains the same, as the story requires, so does that of other characters supposedly growing older with him. Surely visual comparisons showing the ravages of the ageing process could have heightened dramatic effect and accentuated core themes. These seem rather curious oversights in a production which also suffers from staging that is occasionally clumsy, including some hit-and-miss lighting. Being Vanessa Redgrave’s granddaughter, Daisy Bevan, like Jack Fox, belongs to a formidable acting dynasty, something which the production’s publicity makes much of. Indeed, it is endearing performances by them and the rest of the company of seven that provide the brightest moments and the only real reasons for wanting to see what is otherwise a very disappointing show.
Performance date: 22 April 2014