When Oscar Wilde published his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1891, it caused a scandal. The anti-hero of the title sells his soul for eternal youth and lives a life of violent hedonism until his conscience catches up with him. Sean Aydon’s intelligent adaptation for Tilted Wig embraces the mood and tone of Wilde’s original as well as its epigrammatic witticisms.
It’s not overly reverential, though. Aydon’s changes make this production both accessible and at times genuinely unsettling. Things are helped in no small way by Sarah Beaton’s set design, a metaphor for the play itself, featuring rotting plaster on the walls of an otherwise tastefully appointed Victorian sitting room.
There are some fine performances too, not least from Emmerdale actor Jonathan Wrather, as a supremely decadent Lord Henry Wotton, and Gavin Fowler as the transformative Dorian, switching seamlessly from narcissistic child to knife-wielding psycho with utter conviction. The ill-fated Sybil Vane is played with appropriate innocence by Kate Dobson, but it remains an underwritten role considering the character’s impact on the story.
There are a few missteps along the way. A stylised sex-and-drugs orgy just feels a bit naff and the run-up to the ending lacks dramatic momentum. Otherwise, this touring production is an articulate and provocative adaptation of Wilde’s only novel.