The Picture of Dorian Gray
Sydney Theatre Company
December 5, 2020
Being an Oscar Wilde aficionado, I have hardly ever missed a chance to see one of his less-performed plays both in the new as well as the old world, with the respective incarnations being more or less conventional in terms of how the gothic melodrama was adapted to the stage.
Given his background in media design and director of films, learning about Sydney Theatre Company’s Artistic Director reimagining The Picture of Dorian Gray intrigued me as his previous creations – no matter if it was Shakespeare or him directing The Rape of Lucretia, which we covered as part of one of the Dark Mofo festivals, always added an x-factor to his innovative stage adaptations of classic pieces.
In essence, Sydney Theatre Company’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is a mind-blowing tour de force entirely carried by solitary performer and dramaturg Eryn Jean Norvill, who manages to play all twenty-six characters herself. Taking up a role is challenging. Embracing so many roles can not only increase the risk of messing up the whole play, but also run danger of entering the realm of slapstick.
Not so with Norvill, who delivers throughout the play, immersing herself fully in each character, working with both subtle tonal variations and physical gestures, which are set in scene with the use of cleverly intertwined live and pre-recorded video, captured by a roving camera crew and broadcast via an array of moving and static screens.
The timing, intricate attention to detail and perfectly choreographed interplays are stunning and delivered in a seemingly effortless yet authentic manner, through which Norvill authentically brings to life and engages with all characters as if they were present in the third dimension. Needless to say, over the two-hour performance there is no dull moment and it does not feel as if the focus is solely resting on the shoulders of one actor.
Kip Williams’ The Picture of Dorian Gray accomplished many things: It not only honours Wilde’s wit, but adds another dimension of enjoyment that is as witty as Wilde by e.g. letting the characters argue in a meta-manner about who should deliver the lines or letting Norvill e.g. drop subtle references to her previous roles.
Summa summarum, STC’s contemporary, inventive, complex and smart The Picture of Dorian Gray is a unlike any interpretation I have previously seen manifest on stage and allows Norvill to shine in all her expansive nuances that she channels her alchemy in.
A herculean feat and one of the greatest performances I have had the privilege to see incarnate on terra australis.
image from production website