WORTH A LOOK?: ***1/2
WHERE?: Digital production 20 March 2021
HOW TO WATCH: Screening online 16-31 March 2021. UPDATE: Now available to 17 April 2021
You probably recognise Fionn Whitehead from Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning World War Two film Dunkirk but we last saw him onstage at the Old Vic in Queers.
- Read on for reasons including how it is Enoch’s larger-than-life portrayal that you will remember most from this staged film
Here he plays the titular Dorian Gray in this reboot of Oscar Wilde’s only novel which was published in 1890 and tells the story of a man whose portrait ages as he leads a decadent life yet retains his youthful looks.
Writer Henry Filloux-Bennett has reimagined Gray through a present day social media lens, meaning he is an influencer who enchants Russell Tovey’s (also in Queers at the Old Vic) Basil Hallward who provides him with a filter through which his boyish complexion can be seen by the online world while a Covid-related mask hides the bad behaviour weathering his face to the real world.
It’s a neat idea suited to the brevity of the novel and lascivious best friend Lord Harry Wotton (Alfred Enoch, bare-chested and unrecognisable from Red, Wyndham’s Theatre and Crave, Chichester Festival Theatre) is having so much fun despite the tragic turn in the story that he gives the most rewarding performance here.
Despite the attentions of Tovey’s spellbound Hallward and Gray’s mischievous best friend, Gray falls for singer/would-be actress Sibyl Vane played by Emma McDonald who dries onstage and suffers a particularly painful social media exposé.
Stephen Fry is a fleeting presence as the interviewer and Joanna Lumley brings some real feeling to the part of Lady Narborough who, though clearly older than family friend Gray, has a complicated mixture of feelings for him.
Less successful is the final act of the staged film in which the idea of social media’s influence in the spreading of fake news is introduced.
Director Tamara Harvey however generally achieves the switch from something which has clearly been adapted from the stage, filmed under socially distanced conditions yet utilises technology to appear as cutting edge as the social media it is criticising.
The language is modern and, despite the deployment of some of Wilde’s best-known phrases, it never fully convinces as a piece that Wilde might have written today rather than more than a century ago.
At a time though when we have been starved of theatre, it’s an entertaining diversion, with a hugely talented cast that will hopefully benefit the many regional theatres involved.