Maskers Theatre Company Maskers Studio, Southampton David A Putley 6 March 2023
Doran Gray, perhaps without realising it contains many of Oscar Wilde’s greatest hits of quotes, and it was nice to be reminded in this stark production of the famous work adapted by Paul Stebbings. This allows much of Wilde’s words to literally take centre stage.
Director Paul Green tells us in an informative set of notes in the programme, which I would recommend reading, that “There are natural scenes but even those use elements of stylised movement”. Reference is made to Grotowski Theory which in essence is “the Theatre that values the body of the actor and its relation with the spectator and does away with costumes décor and music”.
Whilst not doing away entirely with these elements, it means an eschewing of gimmick, special effect and depiction allowing the audience to base a reaction on imagination. The one item of scenery, the frame, remains empty and props such as glasses etc and doors into properties are imagined, mimed if you will.
A disturbing scene was very well depicted when Dorian literally has the life blood sucked into him from the picture, the picture being brought to life in the hands of another actor, Robert Osbourne. The pain and facial expressions being very much directed along the lines of Munch’s “The Scream”. Perhaps that artwork really is an “after” representation of Dorian.
A compact collection of cast remain on stage throughout watching the proceedings except for the odd change of character dress, making this very much an intimate setting. Alex Mawers gave a languid supercilious performance as the titled character, well aware of his position and deference due to his beauty and class. Henry Wotton in the hands of Jez Minns more than matched him in confident remarks on quality of life, his monologues on the state of humankind to his pupil/victim Damian, being sincerely delivered.
Neil Forster evoked sympathy with his portrayal of Basil Hallwood, painter of the original work. The scenes with him, Dorian and Wotton were well paced and emotional.
Pippa Messant Watling brought huge charm to both her roles, her singing voice being perfectly in tune with her character. The scene with her brother played by Robert Osborne was emotionally warm: his “mirror scene”, as indicated already, as picture Damian was well depicted.
Alan Campbell brought robust confidence to his recurring set of characters, making them entirely believable. Jill Desborough brought empathy to her role as Leaf, equally believable and sympathetic as the put-upon housekeeper. Her reaction to the dead (spoiler-sorry) Damian was particularly well directed and acted. Completing the cast, Kinga Motyka brought her lovely singing and bright characterisation to the fore, the duet with Pippa being particularly memorable.
The production team, of whom there are many, should be congratulated on following the Director’s vision. Use of lighting, sound costume in perfect keeping and it is clear this is a collaborative effort.
As an homage to the original work, I agree with the Director Note that this production is not about the horror. This adaption almost sees that as a by-product.
Indeed, the characters around Damian here do not age or change costume as time passes making the speech to Jim Vane about 18 years having passed a surprise, perhaps one step too far for this reviewer. Total reliance on the audience to populate the stage with their own visualisations, almost akin to a silent disco where each person just reacts to what theyhear, or in this case don’t see, is an interesting journey and prompted much discussion in the leaving audience. A thought-provoking evening.