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The Picture of Dorian Gray review at Watermill Theatre, Newbury – ‘winning and witty’

Emily Stott, Emma McDonald and Eva Feiler in The Picture of Dorian Gray at the Watermill Theatre.Photo: Philip Tull
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Phoebe Eclair-Powell’s all-female adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray is a winning and witty affair, nimbly directed by Owen Horsley and engagingly performed by a mercurial cast of three.

Though it retains the source material’s moral concerns and supernatural body horror, it’s nevertheless accessible and appealing enough for children, with deft and frequently funny writing for two long-suffering narrators.

Eva Feiler and Emily Stott address the audience and each other with familiar and bumbling ease, slipping between characters with the help of significant props and accessories.

Feiler is excellently nasal and concerned as bespectacled Basil – the artist smitten with his subject – while Stott effortlessly embodies louche, waistcoat-wearing sensualist Lord Henry Wotton and love-struck East End actress Sibyl Vane, winsome in a frilly cape. As Dorian, Emma McDonald has a glamorous poise matched by patrician tones, and convincingly transitions from impressionable youth to jaded debauchee and panicked penitent.

Dominating the small Watermill stage is an empty frame on wheels that’s imaginatively deployed. It’s the ominous picture within which the Adonis poses, but when twisted, turned and shunted back and forth by the cast, it can become a theatre box, doorways into various abodes, attics and smoky opium dens.

Having an all-female cast enriches and ironises Wilde’s aesthetic impulses. From decadent fin de siècle concerns emerge echoes of today’s grotesque fetishisation and commercialisation of (predominately female) youth and beauty. Lines about female uselessness and sentiment are uttered with disruptive glee. This is a real achievement from a talented team of theatremakers.

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Clever and comic all-female adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic designed for younger audiences