Watermill - The Picture of Dorian Gray
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Watermill Theatre - The Picture of Dorian Gray

18th to 23rd September 2017, then on tour

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Wilde-ly witty

Watermill's clever 'comedy within a naughty framework' goes on tour

The Picture of Dorian Gray, at The Watermill, Bagnor, from Monday, September 18, to Saturday, September 23, then on tour

I wonder how many of the audience last Tuesday had, like me, never read Oscar Wilde's classic masterpiece and so only had a vague idea what to expect.

Apart from a small table, the purple and black stage was a blank canvas, holding only a moveable door-sized structure which not only framed the beautiful, decadent, subject of the play when required, but was also employed for entrances and departures.

First published in 1890, the novel suffered 500 words being cut before publication, the editor of the magazine involved believing that his readers' sensibilities would be offended. Even so, it attracted calls for Wilde to be prosecuted for breaking laws relating to public morality. There have been many versions since, so presumably public morality has managed to hold out, for its popularity remains.

This Watermill version was adapted by Phoebe Eclair-Powell, who said in the after-show question time that in writing the play, which was to tour schools, she had been given strict parameters.

She therefore decided to err on the side of comedy within a "naughty framework" and this entertaining, often very funny evening, in spite of the subject matter, which included suicide, murder and the depraved behaviour of the main character – brilliantly played by Emma McDonald – was proof that she had succeeded.

The humour was in the hands of Eva Feiler and Emily Stott, who narrated and took all the other parts so effectively that there was never a thought that it was odd to find three girls playing male characters. In the question session, Eva Feiler said how good it was to prove, as here, that an actor could play any part. I particularly liked the scenes between Feiler as artist Basil Hallward, creator of the picture which aged as its subject descended into depravity, and Stott as the dissolute Lord Henry Wotton, who leads Dorian astray. As well as the humour introduced by Eclair-Powell, there were magnificent Wilde quotes and the play went forward in stages, with Feiler and Stott suddenly announcing joyfully "back to the story" as the action moved on. The production, directed by Owen Horsley, will be touring schools until October 14. I envy the students who will see it.

CAROLINE FRANKLIN