The Picture of Dorian Gray

April 21, 2010

Alice Coughlan and Wonderland Theatre Productions have brought a site specific staging of The Picture of Dorian Gray to The James Joyce Tea Room in Bewleys Cafe on Grafton Street for the One Book, One City festival. It is an invigorating, luxurious piece of drama that is undermined by two poor directorial choices.
The first flaw is in making this an all-male production. Though Michael James Ford makes for an amusing Sybil Vane and Lady Victoria Wotton, having a man play these roles decimates the central tragedy, the tipping point for Dorian Gray into true selfishness and excess.  The audience titter at the mock femininity rather than mourn the woman, too taken up with the sight of Ford wandering around the stage with a doily on his head to see how despicable a person Dorian’s vanity has made him become.
The second drawback is the casting of Michael Winder who never convinced me as the titular character, never exuded the charisma or sense of self grandeur that could have so many people enthralled, captivated or besotted by him. He was spoilt, petulant and utterly deplorable from the beginning of the piece and made no progression as the play went on. He never changed his tone or delivery and infuriatingly followed up each witticism, each statement with a a knowing, smug flash of the eyes which told me nothing about the character of Dorian Gray, nothing of his deceptive behaviour and nothing about his hedonistic lifestyle. Winder potrayed a Dorian who had read about excess in books but never experienced it in real life.
Elsewhere the playing was finely understated. Michael James Ford and Simon Coury moved with ease from narration to performance and Coughlan made good use of the space, successfully merging a reading of the book with a performance of it. Stripping Wilde back can often cheat the audience of the richness of his words and Coughlan made every attempt to translate it as faithfully as possible. It’s not a certified success but a qualified attempt at bringing the gothic, Victorian world of Dorian Gray to the reality of modern day Dublin, a staging that combined the best parts of reading and hearing a story.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, James Joyce Tearoom at Bewleys of Grafton Street, April 13th to 1st May @ 4.30pm, €24.95

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