Dorian Gray is alive! Make no mistake. Not looking too shabby for someone over 150 years old. He’s a photographer now. It’s much easier to capture a soul in a click rather than a brush stroke. The way to immortality fast-tracked from paint to lens. It must be very reassuring for hell that souls are so snappily taken.
But he died, didn’t he? Slashed his own painting in the attic, found as a desiccated corpse. I did wonder whether ‘Dorian Gray’ would be a metaphor for all those men who play fast and loose with aestheticism—‘life for life itself’—driving a polemic around the need for male societal change and retribution. Thankfully, this narrative trap is avoided. It really is Dorian Gray. His survival is explained. Well, sort of. If you don’t look too closely. What this does, is allow The Trial of Dorian Gray to be a continuation—breathing life into an intimate and somewhat intricate two-hander.
What is the ‘Trial’ all about? In the way of immortals, Dorian’s attention is piqued by a model, Mikala. He assumes that she—like so many before her—has inveigled herself into his company ostensibly to get head shots from the best 150-year-old photographer in town. He initially lures and toys with her in his flat. I guess that’s all there is to do with so much time on your hands. What Dorian doesn’t expect is for Mikala to have a deeper personal, and ultimately, metaphysical purpose for challenging him on his lifestyle and choices. When there is no cost to a transaction, what price is ultimately paid? A lively, often divergent, argument ensues that covers a lot of ground in 50 minutes, touching on change, environmental issues, despair and philosophy but ultimately landing on redemption. Without spoiling the ending, I did wonder whether the somewhat flighty outcome said more about the potential redeemer than Dorian’s ability to be redeemed.
It was courageous of PaperLight Theatre to preview this play in a Lecture Hall as in less competent hands it could have killed the atmosphere dead. That is the glory of Student Theatre in the raw. The ambition is not in the shoestring budget but in the performances and direction. The Make It SO Fringe Festival from NST is such a great launchpad across Southampton with many opportunities to immerse in bite-size unique perspectives and stories.
Elliot Morris’s directorial debut focused energy inwardly to the characters. Textually he grasped and ran with the shifting dichotomy between his leads. I would have liked to have seen some more energy directed out through the fourth wall so that the audience could absorb some of the more powerful exchanges and arguments.
Harry Segar, as Dorian, had to transition between the darkness of a long life lived without sympathy to others, yet gain sympathy as a character who remains as young and immature as the day Basil painted his picture. Harry navigated this intelligently and with thought. He was attractive in shifting character traits quickly as Mikala poked him in argumentative directions, calling on and delivering varied reserves of emotion and energy. For performance nights, Harry may want to toughen up a little in the initial scenes, a little nastier to help underpin the action to follow and more confident with some of the sexier elements.
Mazzy Westwood, as Mikala, landed with a well thought out naturalistic performance. The temptation would be to heighten the character from naïve model, to seductress to—spoilers! Good expression, if slightly quiet diction in places, made for an on beat ethereal performance that gave credibility to a part that needs to equal the mercurial shifts of Dorian—and did.
Overall, I think The Trial of Dorian Gray is another great example of the high standard of work that Southampton students and contemporaries are achieving in the creative arena. The focus on understanding the narrative and characters, the levels and maturity and thought in production, and the ability to drive home those perspectives should be applauded. I recommend heading down to the NST City Studio on Thursday and Friday this week to see The Trial of Dorian Gray. I, meanwhile, shall be heading up to my attic to see what the heck my painting is playing at.