The Picture of Dorian Gray *****


Underbelly, Cowgate

Venue 61

11.10 (run ends 27th Aug, not 15th)

Oh my goodness Box Tale Soup have done it again!  Three-handed this time, with a really beautiful young man, Mark, joining Noel, but with the excellent Laura instead of Antonia, (who was working in Boston but joins them soon – it’s enough to make me want to go and see it again with her in it…).


The story line is simple: a beautiful youth’s portrait is painted, and it is so lovely that the sitter, to whom it is presented, wishes he could always stay as young and beautiful as he is in it: he vows he would give anything for the inevitable signs of ageing to be shown on the portrait, while he himself remains unchanged.  Be careful what you wish for!  His wish is granted, and while he embarks on a life of debauchery, leading many men and women to ruin, he remains untouched by time…


It’s a magnificent show again – as I was sure it would be.  A complex story with many characters is told clearly and simply with minimum props – the trunk, an empty frame for ‘the’ picture, and six other frames in which the puppet characters sit when not playing their part.  Such simplicity, and so effective – gripping from start to finish, and transporting us into the decadent world of Victorian aristocrats and the sleazy and exciting ‘underworld’ into which they loved to dip: clear undertones of Jekyll and Hyde operating here…


The choreography and use of movement is excellent.  We enter the auditorium to a Chopin waltz played on the pianoforte, but this morphs from genuine Chopin to something far more contemporary and threatening to which the two men dance, hinting at that which is to come.  The increasingly degenerate life the main characters lead is graphically acted out, as they taste all the pleasures on offer in steadily-increasing quantities.  The gradual degradation of the portrait also cleverly done, with the other actors manipulating and distorting Dorian’s face inside the picture frame: the murder is also very cleverly portrayed with the simplest of effects.  Of course, the puppetry is superb: one knows the puppets are being voiced by an actor yet they live in themselves at the same time.  Simple costumes easily differentiated the many characters the two men played between them, and each character was alive and vibrant: I particularly appreciated the vengeance-seeking James, brother of the rejected actress Sibyl Vane.


There is a strong emphasis on the homoerotic undertones of the story, not just between the artist Basil and the beautiful Dorian, but also hinted at between Lord Henry and Dorian – was this one of the reasons the former was so keen to draw his young protégé down the slippery path to destruction?  Certainly Henry seems oblivious of the results of his proselytising the virtues of hedonism and their effect on Dorian, while Basil, who probably truly loved Gray, is horrified when he sees the changes in the portrait and begs Dorian to pray for forgiveness.  Alas that the impulse to draw someone towards good is rewarded with death, whereas it seems Lord Henry gets off scot-free – apart from being ‘rather lonely’ when his wife leaves him.  It makes me want to go and read the book again, to follow up these ideas and to relish again the many splendid Wilde one-liners…


The full house was held enthralled from start to finish, and loud in its applause at the end of the show.  This was another sell-out performance, so make sure you hurry and get your ticket NOW…!

Mary Woodward