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Dorian: Son of Love and Death - The Other Palace Studio

Brought into the present day, this adaptation of the 1891 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray works remarkably well for the most part, in contrast to a lot of nineteenth-century stories repositioned in the twenty-first century which don’t work well at all (to be blunt), either because contextually, there are too many nuances from a previous generation that have no equivalent in the modern world, or because a show becomes too constrained by the parameters of the original text, and its writers would have been better off writing a new story from scratch. Every so often, it’s both.

Dorian (Elliot Gooch) has been discovered by Harry Wotton (Harry Boyd), who is – in a nod to the novel – referred to as a ‘lord’ in the sense that, being a producer, he’s in charge of Dorian’s career as well as that of his other clients. Gooch’s Dorian is appropriately handsome, and his confidence grows at least partly through Harry’s influence. That this Dorian is a pop star (or maybe a rock star?) in the making is a vehicle for some musical numbers (there are, according to the programme, eighteen in total), and over the course of the show Gooch demonstrates a remarkable vocal range. Pretty much all of the music is pre-recorded: as I understand it, the aim is, should the show make it to a full production, to have a live band.

How, then, do things like the ubiquity of mobile telephony and social media fit so well into Dorian: Son of Love and Death? Dorian appears to shun both rather than be exposed to whatever it is that is being said about him, which seems to me to be entirely plausible. Baz Hallward (James Rockey) is, in this version, a photographer who conducts Dorian’s photo shoot for promotional purposes, and after being invited to look at the results straight away, Dorian wishes that the picture would age instead of himself.

Harry’s wife Victoria (Chanice Alexander-Burnett) is a somewhat underwritten role, as it stands. She’s a stylist, which justifies her presence at Dorian’s photo shoot, and seems to have lots of other customers. Completing the list of on-stage characters is Sibyl Vane (Ashley Goh), who also doubles up as a character named only in the programme as Fabian – the final musical number makes her and Dorian sound like a married couple, sung as it is by ‘Fabian and Dorian Gray’. Sibyl is, as ever, Dorian’s love interest – an opera singer who is at the receiving end of regular visits to her dressing room by Dorian, who can never get enough of her performances.

So far, so faithful, and it continues in this vein to the end. But while the first half is, to quote a certain political figure, ‘oven ready’, the second half still needs adjustment. The narrative pacing slows to a crawl – having established just before the interval that Dorian has sold his soul to the devil (whatever that really means), there’s a song after it called ‘Devil’s Bargain’. Another, called ‘The Face of Truth’, does little to advance the storyline, because lengthy spoken dialogue had already established the song’s salient points. But there is a good range of musical styles, and everyone’s singing voices are a delight to listen to.

They are more or less there with regards to set and costumes – the contemporary setting means not a huge amount of either is required, and a full production should provide the audience with more of the kind of video projections that the show opens with. A still image of whatever state Dorian’s photograph is in at appropriate points in the story would be useful. Given the dark ending, a big all-singing all-dancing Musical Theatre finish isn’t going to work, and indeed there isn’t one. But would it be too brief if the running time were reduced to ninety minutes with no interval? I don’t think so. (It currently stands at two hours including an interval.) Finally, the staging needs reworking for a full production – certain scenes take place at circle level, directly above a section of the audience sat in the stalls.

As this is a work in progress, a star rating would not be appropriate for this performance.

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