Review: ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is a once in a lifetime triumph of theatre

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Review: ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is a once in a lifetime triumph of theatre

The Picture of Dorian Gray
words by sidonie bird de la coeur

I’m going to make no bones about it – the Sydney Theatre Company’s adaptation of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' is one of the most spectacular pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen.

Kip Williams’ adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray is a truly unforgettable performance. Equal parts funny and gripping, every element of this incredibly ambitious piece of stagecraft comes together for a flawless show.

Based on Oscar Wilde’s century-old fable of the same name, the play follows the young and exquisite Dorian Gray, who makes a Faustian wish for eternal youth after having a dazzling portrait painted of himself. While he throws himself into a life of excessive extravagance, constantly revelling in his unchanging and ageless beauty, the portrait in his attic becomes more grotesque and hideous with each passing day.

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It’s bought to life by Eryn Jean Norvill, who takes the lead in a role unlike anything else I’ve ever seen before. Playing 26 characters, she populates the world of the story in an undeniably spectacular performance. A one person adaptation is a genius choice for Wilde’s Gothic parable about the obsession with the self, exploring the themes of vanity and perception that warps one’s self-worth.

Her playing multiple actors is introduced delicately – dressed in a black shirt, Norvill switches in the opening scene between the artist Basil Hallward and aristocrat Lord Henry by swapping between holding a paintbrush and cigarette respectively.

As the play hurtles on, Norvill melts and shapeshifts before our eyes, shifting, changing and evolving to play multiple characters at once in a jaw-dropping feat of performance. Live video is seamlessly blended with pre-recorded footage, as Norvill interacts with videos of herself, even arguing and bickering with said recordings in moments of fourth-wall-breaking levity.

Kip Williams’ direction is phenomenal. His adaptation of Wilde’s work on stage is an intersection between the theatrical and the cinematic, with masterfully precise and effective choreography.


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While the video elements are stunning and showcase state of the art cinematography by a team at the top of their game, the technology never eclipses either the performance or Wilde’s indulgent prose. All the elements here are perfect, the blend of live and recorded video work is seamless and incredibly impressive.

The camera operators dance and weave around Norvill with gimbals and Steadicams, perfectly placed at all times to capture the precise angle needed. It’s like watching a well-oiled machine in action.

Told with an innovative voice, this surprisingly contemporary take on Wilde’s story of vanity utilises modern elements in a way that’s not at all ham fisted or just another ‘contemporary take on an old story’ kind of way.

This is particularly highlighted by both the use of face tuning apps and in the set and costume design by Marg Horwell. The timelessness of Wilde’s story is bought to the forefront in the set design – while very much rooted in Victorian aesthetics at the start, the stage warps from traditional Gothic dress and sensibility into more modern glitz and glamour. A highlight is when in a moment of panic, Gray steps into a hansom cab, the scenery around him shifting from a gas lit London at the turn of the 19th Century to a modern, neon, sky-scraper filled city.

A once in a lifetime triumph of theatre, this show is absolutely unmissable. If you see one thing at RISING this year, make it The Picture of Dorian Gray. Heck, if you only see one play this year, it should be Kip Williams’ adaptation of Dorian Gray.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde Adapted and Directed by Kip Williams
Presented by the Sydney Theatre Company
Showing at Arts Centre Melbourne, June 5 – July 31
Tickets $80 – $160, grab them by heading here.