Posts Tagged ‘Jeckyll and Hyde’

Review – Pictures of Dorian Gray – Jermyn Street Theater

June 13, 2019

While Oscar Wilde’s plays mocking Victorian society are regularly revived, his novel of art and evil – The Portrait of Dorian Gray – doesn’t have a standard theatrical version, despite being popular as a film and even having some luck as a ballet and even as a promenade theatrical event. It’s a great novel, deliciously fin de siecle, a perfect companion for Jeckyll and Hyde, the poetry of Baudelaire, and the art of Von Stuck. And it deserved better than I had seen it get on stage before, and my hopes were high that Lucy Shaw’s fresh adaptation at the Jermyn Street Theater – and the decision to use four different configurations of the cast, including two versions with a female lead – would bring fresh insights and real vibrancy to this play.

As a female Dorian, Helen Reuben is deliciously chosen – endlessly fresh faced, a delight for the eyes, absolutely believable as the person whose portrait could capture the essence of beauty – or someone’s soul. As her tempter, Basil Hallward, Stanton Wright nicely forms heartless words to entice Dorian away from anything other than the worship of the self; and with the two of them decked in black velvet and gilding, they create a feeling of late night menace and brutality that makes the sensibility of the novel feel very alive. The portrait itself is left unseen, as is best for horror: it is merely a reflective pond beneath a muddled shining wall that might have been a mirror. The agelessness is left to the true Dorian; the ugliness of the portrait is created entirely with words.

These words, however, prove a distraction in too much of the story. With two more actors (most memorably painter Henry Wotten – Richard Keightley – and Sibyl Vane – Augustina Seymour) left with not quite enough to do, they are sent to speak Wilde’s words describing Gray’s words much like a Greek chorus – as a near constant chant beneath the dialogue on stage. The words do a lot to help pump up the atmosphere of poisoned flowers and redolent evil – but they prove too much of a distraction and ended in reducing the sense of impending doom. It’s all extremely successful when Dorian is immersing herself in corrupting literature – hard to convey what she is taking in otherwises – but when she’s going to opium dens and corrupting the wives and sons of the elite, the audience is given little sense of just what she is doing and why she is so out of control. Admittedly Wilde himself doesn’t go into much detail about Gray’s activities, but her time spent in the depths and ultimate ruination could have been built up to much better effect. Still, the ending is handled nicely, with beautiful theatricality, and the night ended with a grand feeling of satisfaction.

Picture C Cast, Pictures of Dorian Gray

Picture C Cast, Pictures of Dorian Gray: Helen Reuben, Augustina Seymour, Stanton Wright, Richard Keightley (L-R)

One thing really had me struggling, though: to a great extent, Gray’s fall is the fall of a man, and a gay man at that. While Reuben and Wright have a delicious electricity between them, it felt to me like it was only because Gray was a man and an affair between the two could not have been portrayed on stage (or in a book!) at the time this novel was written that they did not consummate their relationship. And women cannot ruin men the way Gray ruined both men and women. It was a pleasure to see this play done with a woman in the lead role, but I think some changes to the script for the “Picture C/Picture D” cast could have amped the impacted tremendously. That said, given Stanton Wright’s charisma, I think it would be worthwhile to see it again in the “Picture A/Picture B” configuration … this fine story has been brought to life with London smoke and back alleys intact, and I’d enjoy taking another trip down the road to glorious self destruction.

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 11th, 2019. It runs through July 6th.)

Review – “It’s Behind You” – Union Theatre, Southwark

January 22, 2009

I am a big panto fan, no doubt about it. I spend the year looking forward to my next trip to the Hackey Empire and the most fun I’ll have in a theater all year long. I’m also a big fan of the Union Theatre in Southwark ever since seeing their Annie Get Your Gun” last spring. So I was very excited at the thought of this intimate, gritty space being used for a panto, especially on that was billed as “not for the kiddies” (as The Lyric Hammersmith’s Cinderella should have been). So off I went, adult companion by my side, to a Saturday afternoon performance for which I had very high hopes.

Things got off to a good start as our deliciously creepy narrator (Phillip Lawrence) escorted us into the tiny theater (set up with back and side seats, the stage itself forming the other side of a rectangle in combination with the seats). The set was particular low budget – just two painted drops showing “Pantoville.” We had a song and dance number featuring our various bizarre cast members – Stinkerbelle (Victoria McKenzie), “Mayor” Hook (Anton Tweedale, whom the narrator encouraged us to boo), a wheelchair-bound Cinders (Alison Edmunds), the bearded and hairy “Ugley” sisters (Warren Rusher and Richard Aloi), and the shockingly gay looking Buttons (Darren Munn). (By “shocking” I mean in a 80’s Richard Simmons kind of way, with a sweatband, fluffy hair, and eyeliner completely encircling his eyes.) These seemed to be a much darker version of the normal Panto crew, and quite the contrast to the various members of Mother Goose. The Ugley sisters were sex shop proprietors, Prince Charming (Victoria Jeffrey) was a corset-clad dominatrix, and, well, our Narrator appeared to have snuck off from Cabaret. So far, so good.

Our leads then appeared – a sort of Brad and Janet, but in this case, a Gary (Ross Henry Steele) and Karen (Carina Reeves), a couple who were apparently about to get hitched in the registry office before the male half disappeared into the loo (and Pantoland), leaving his very pregnant bride behind. The various plots then began to manifest – Gary (who kept not being found by Karen) seemed to be unwilling to admit he was getting married, Karen was hiding the fortune she was to inherit if she married, and (dah dah DAH!) people were being mysteriously murdered in Pantoland. A runaround began as Gary and Karen tried to find (or not find) each other, and various people attempted to either solve the murders or pull Gary and/or Karen.

Unfortunately, the energy for most of the first act just wasn’t enough to sustain all of this to-ing and fro-ing. There were some songs and a bit of dancing and some comedy, but I wanted things to be way more up and in your face. I’m not sure if it was because this was a matinee and almost the very end of the run, but the sparkle just wasn’t there. So much of the fun for pantos for me is watching actors hamming it up and having a good time, especially when things go not quite right and they have to start improving. For It’s Behind You, the line delivery, special effects, and acting all seemed to be quite where they wanted to be … and it was lifeless. Sure, the vanilla characters are always a bit dull, though Carina was actually quite on depicting a rather poor girl trying to make the best of a bad situation, but the rest of the characters just weren’t able to pump it up enough to make up the difference.

Oddly, I actually got intrigued by the late-arriving plot twist: Gary was actually gay and only with Karen to keep his reputation up. This actually got into a more nuanced analysis of this kind of situation than I would have ever expected from some silly flip of a play – how do you deal with this? It’s really just all too common, both pretending to be what your not and dealing with a person who doesn’t really love you even though they really want to – but can’t. It reminded me of high school rather a bit too much. This was enough of an impetus to get me to come back for the second act, which did manage to get quite a bit goofier and had a truly amazing ball scene in which people were sprayed with perfumes (“Anger!” “Honesty!” “ORGY!”) that made them all act most amusingly. It was a bit like the “Time Warp” scene of Rocky Horror, only far more pleasant. And there was a nice twist at the end as it turned out the bad guy wasn’t the person we thought, and Karen gets to (mostly) solve the murder, as a new mother – and comes to accept the fact that she needs to move on and let Gary find his own way … with Buttons.

Ultimately I found this show rather disappointing though it wasn’t wholly bad – I think I might have just caught the cast on a bad day. Or, who knows, maybe it did need a lot more editing and more fun stuck in the first act. At any rate, my enthusiasm for Union Theatre does continue and I look forward to seeing their next in-house production, which I think is going to be Jeckyll and Hyde (but can’t verify as their website is down as I write this).

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, January 17th, 2009. This production closed on January 17th after the 7:30 performance.)