Tag Archives: Malvern

Picture Imperfect


Festival Theatre, Malvern, Saturday 11th May, 2019


Tilted Wig Productions bring this new adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s only novel to the stage, courtesy of Sean Aydon, who also directs.  It’s a stylish affair, with a set by Sarah Beaton that suggests Victorian grandeur left to rot.  Beauty in decay is an emblem throughout this tale of handsome young Dorian who, wishing to retain the beauty captured in his portrait, makes a wish… As time goes by, it is the painting that shows signs of age, cruelty and dissipation, while the subject himself is unchanged.  Dorian takes to covering his painting, only to display ‘poor traits’ in his conduct.

Gavin Fowler begins as a sweet, appealing Dorian, subtly hardening his characterisation as his hedonistic pursuits increase his sociopathy. Dorian models himself on his friend, Lord Henry Wotton, played by Jonathan Wrather (evil Pierce off of Emmerdale).  Wrather is marvellous in the role, lazily debonair and louche, the aphorisms dripping from his lips.  Aydon’s script fizzes with Wildean wit, and Wrather has the perfect delivery.  In contrast is Daniel Goode as Basil the artist.  Here Aydon brings Wilde’s homoerotic undertones closer to the surface, although nothing is explicit.


Rather good! Jonathan Wrather as Lord Henry

Kate Dobson is a lively Sybil Vane, the actress who captures Dorian’s fancy, and she shares a funny scene with Samuel Townsend’s Romeo, where Sybil misses her cues.  I adored Phoebe Pryce’s pragmatic Lady Victoria Wotton, inured to her wayward husband’s shenanigans.  Adele James makes a strong impression as Ellen Campbell, ensnared in Dorian’s web.

Beneath the humour and the urbane epigrams, there is an undercurrent of dread and foreboding, accentuated by Jon McLeod’s music and sound design.  The peeling walls and general dinginess aid the idea that beauty is transient and decay is inevitable.  As they seek pleasure in whatever form, the characters are overshadowed by impending mortality.  For a story that concerns the passage of time, this production is curiously timeless in his setting: there are nods to the story’s Victorian origins, in the costumes, but then there are also dresses and slacks that are out of period, and Basil’s plastic bottles of white spirit, let alone the polythene sheet Dorian makes use of, American Psycho style.  Some of these anachronisms jar, others seem to fit, but nothing dilutes the overall tone of the production.

Dorian’s decadence is stylised, with choreography by Jo Meredith and a few masks and electropop beats.  It’s all rather classy so when a murder happens, it’s all the more visceral.

All in all, it’s a gripping version, although I did find it slows a little as it heads towards the climax.  A little more intensity in those final encounters would not go amiss.  I love the way the dreaded painting was handled.  Like Wilde, Aydon leaves it to our imaginations, and imagined horrors and imagined depravities are invariably more effective than depicted ones.


Look at his face; it’s a picture! Gavin Fowler as Dorian Gray


A Slow Day In Naples


Malvern Theatres, Tuesday 23rd August, 2011


Eduardo de Filippo’s play from 1960 is presented in a new version by Mike Poulton, he of several successful adaptations for the RSC (Canterbury Tales, Morte d’Arthur) but here the tone is vastly different.  This is a drawing-room comedy with a twist. The house belongs to Mafioso boss, Ian McKellan, a sentimental old cove who administers his own brand of summary justice to the people who come to him with petty grievances.  Imagine Judge Judy with a handgun.


The central performance is what holds the piece together.  McKellan’s Don Antonio is a multi-faceted but not complex figure with his own sense of morality.  He rules his district of Naples with only the occasional hint of menace.  He rarely has to put his foot down.   Always a thrill to see Gandalf the Grey aka Magneto treading the boards, and I have had the pleasure of seeing his King Lear and his Estragon in Waiting For Godot.  This role, alas, does not rank with those two.  The acting style, falling short of full on ‘Allo ‘Allo! silliness,  results in very English characters who occasionally, when moved, adopt a more Italian inflection and Italian hand gestures.  Mercifully, no one says “Mamma mia!”


The fault is in the source material. The main action takes a long time to get going.  There are pacing issues in the first and third acts. There are too many extraneous characters going nowhere. The elegant Cherie Lunghi is criminally underused as Don Antonio’s wife.  She is merely a cipher to reinforce his power. It was good to see Oliver Cotton as the dignified baker, standing up to McKellan.  Their scene in the second act is the tour de force of the evening.


Don Antonio keeps returning to the idea that a man is not a man unless he rights his mistakes.  A mortal wound forces him to put this maxim into practice.  Slowly bleeding to death, he sets up a dinner party, manipulating the outcome of events so that his district will be able to return to a more conventional morality and code of conduct.  Only at the last moment it all looks set to be derailed.  Don Antonio’s personal physician and “friend” of 35 years, threatens to scupper this utopian ideal by assuming Don Antonio’s place and inciting a vendetta that will destroy everyone in a bloodbath.  De Filippo ends the play at this moment: will the Doctor make his move? Will someone shoot him before he can? Will Don Antonio’s last wish be enacted?  That is the most engaging and interesting moment in the whole piece.  A pity we had to wade through two and a half hours to get to it.


The play felt like Chekhov but without the bleakness to embitter the humour.  I remained ambivalent towards the protagonist, even after his back story was revealed.  He needed to be more overtly evil earlier on to make his volte face the more effective. There is no sense of urgency as time and blood run out. The large cast needs culling – too many add nothing to the plot. Pity the actor who appears at the start but then has to wait around for the curtain call.