Review: THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Sarah Snook is a theatrical tour de force in this thrilling production

By: Feb. 15, 2024
Review: THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, Theatre Royal Haymarket
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Review: THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, Theatre Royal Haymarket I'll admit that I have never dropped acid, but I can imagine that watching Kip Williams' adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray must come close to that experience. Part morality tale, part technical extravaganza, part fall down the rabbit hole, this is a theatrical evening that will remain long in the memory.

Originally staged in Sydney in 2020, the production gets some celebrity stardust sprinkled all over it with the casting of Succession’s Sarah Snook. After Snook’s last outing on the West End stage in Ibsen’s The Master Builder in 2016, she has risen to hold serious acting caché. Nothing announces your stardom more than a one woman show, especially when that show consists of you taking on all 26 roles.

Expectations are high, but Snook more than rises to the occasion. A measured start shows careful character distinction between languid aesthete Lord Wotton marked with a cigarette, the painter Basil Hallward with his brush and his subject, Dorian, with his halo of blonde curls. As Snook narrates the story you are reminded of a kind of adult Jackanory.

Review: THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, Theatre Royal Haymarket

As the show goes on, it is clear that Snook is taking us on a much wilder journey. Her timing is perfect; she has to perform in real time and react to pre-recorded footage, all the while jumping between the role of narrator and every character. There is a chameleon-like distinction in every single one, even when she has to switch with lightening speed between very contrasting roles. She has nothing to hide behind and it is a magnificent display of the most intricate stagecraft, devoid of any vanity.

Wilde’s Dorian Gray has been staged multiple times, but Kip Williams’ brave adaptation of the story is surely the most technically alluring. Aided by immersive projections, lighting-fast hair and makeup changes and multiple moving screens, this is incredibly ambitious staging that pays off in spades.

Although the trick of projecting live action onto screens has been done before, it works particularly well here as it acts as a means by which Snook can act with herself as other characters, but also as an actual reflection in a mirror, upon which the gaze of Gray is so often looking. There is also a haunting visual effect of broken shards of mirror, as though Gray's fractured self is looking straight back at him.

A dark parable for our times, the story of vanity, greed and obsession with youth is brought right up to date with the clever use of filters and selfies, often manipulated by Snook herself to show the distortion that results in such narcissism. Surely Wilde foretold the arrival of Instagram, Tik Tok and all their dangers?

Snook is often at the back of the stage, surrounded by camera operators (huge credit to their work too). I imagine the sight lines of those not sitting in the stalls will be interrupted by the screens, but there is more than enough going on to compensate. There were also a few momentary occasions when the lip-syncing went awry, but when there is so much technical co-ordination required, this is easy to overlook.

Review: THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Marg Horwell’s design melds Victoriana with New Romantic, with more than a dash of campery along the way. Huge credit must go to video designer David Bergman who crafts a visual feast, with one wonderful scene where Snook sits in conversation with five other characters at a dinner table. Nick Schlieper’s lighting adds to the feeling of being in some sort of fever dream.

Casting stars from film and screen does not always translate to the stage and after winning an Emmy, two Golden Globes and a Critics' Choice Award, Sarah Snook can surely pick whichever role she wants. Thank goodness she chose this one. 

The Picture of Dorian Gray is at Theatre Royal Haymarket until 11 May

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner




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