Dark, dazzling and thought-provoking, Henry Filloux-Bennett’s modern-day adaptation of THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY brings Oscar Wilde’s Faustian tale kicking and screaming into the digital age
Between family Zoom quizzes, homeschooling and virtual meetings, it’s fair to say that most of us have spent the majority of 2020 – and 2021 – online. As such, Henry Filloux-Bennett’s modern-day adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY holds an unexpected relatability as it plunges us into the social media-obsessed world we currently live in.
In this adaption, our anti-hero, Dorian Gray, is portrayed as a university student dealing with lockdown life pressures in the middle of a global pandemic. Learning to find his place in a profile pic-obsessed, filter-fixated world, he makes a deal for his social stardom never to fade and for his perfect broadcast self to always remain. But as his mental health starts to decline and corruption and murderous depravity start to creep into his world, the true and horrific cost of Dorian’s deal will soon need to be met.
Filloux-Bennett’s brand-new adaptation brings Wilde’s Faustian tale kicking and screaming into a world of Instagram, Facebook and dating apps. Using the digital age as the perfect platform, this dark, dazzling and thought-provoking piece addresses our obsession with youth, beauty and celebrity.
Reimagined for the screen, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY has a very similar construct to WHAT A CARVE UP! in its narrative devices. The story begins at the end of Wilde’s original piece, with key characters retelling their version of events in a series of filmed interviews, alongside dramatised flashbacks.
Director Tamara Harvey, together with Director of Photography Benjamin Collins, do an impressive job of bringing out the gothic tones of Wilde’s story through its visuals. Dorian looks ever more beautiful on his YouTube channel while growing gaunter and more haunted off-screen with Holly Pigott’s impressive sets and costumes and Harry Smith’s original music only adding to the cinematic feel of the piece.
The cast is equally impressive. Fionn Whitehead’s portrayal of Dorian is enigmatic, charming and seductive, even if his character feels a little too grounded to buy into the bargain that Basil (Russell Tovey) presents him with. Emma McDonald delivers an emotionally charged performance as Sibyl Vane, while Alfred Enoch is excellent as Harry Wotton, whose intimate friendship with Dorian brings the homosexual undertones of Wilde’s text to the surface.
Shame then that the two biggest names in the cast – Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley – feel somewhat underused. As the Interviewer, Fry has little part to play and even less screen time, while Lumley’s Caroline Narborough’s desire to join the youth-obsessed world of social media feels like a missed opportunity.
There’s also a lot to cover here, with loneliness, lack of privacy, cyberbullying, fake news and conspiracy theories all touched upon in the production, sometimes coming across a little heavy-handed and as a distraction from the strong performances.
That said, its the complex narrative, witty script and awful sentiments that make this adaption so delightful. Add in its stellar cast, and dexterous staging and THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY makes for an engaging, thought-provoking watch.
Tickets for THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY are priced at £12, which includes a link to the production as well as a digital programme. Audience members receive a screening link which will activate on their booked performance date for a 48-hour period.
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY is available online until 31 March.
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.