By Gillie Tunley and Brenda Sandilands.
The Progress Youth Theatre staged a winning and witty production of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray at the Progress Theatre, Reading this week. It was skilfully adapted and slickly directed by Ali and Liz Carroll and engagingly performed by a mercurial cast of six, who slipped effortlessly between characters with the help of imaginative headwear and accessories, draped around the atmospheric set.
The framed chorus, dressed in puritanical black and white, lead us into the life of the handsome Dorian Gray and the Faustian pact he makes to preserve his youth and beauty. As Dorian, Lorna Greene has an aesthetic glamour and convincingly transitions from naïf youth to jaded hedonist and then pleading penitent. The picture in the title is a portrait of Dorian created by the smitten and deeply moral Basil Hallward (played with authoritative dignity by James Laynesmith) who is charmingly earnest. Our sympathy for him grows as he defends his position on such topics as friendship, love and marriage with another friend, the decadent and narcissistic Lord Henry “Harry” Wotton. Archie Budge elegantly embodies the louche and languid Harry, reclining limpidly on his chaise longue. He smoothly rebuts Basil’s views with an entertaining series of Wildean aphorisms (“the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties”).
The steady pace continues, with links and coincidences established. Harry and Dorian encounter each other during lunch at the home of Harry’s Aunt Agatha, who – as it turns out – knew Dorian’s mother. Cora Jamieson is splendidly aristocratic as Aunt Agatha and is eager to recruit help for her charity work in the East End slums.
As Dorian falls under Harry’s spell and becomes ever more cynical, there will be a high price to pay. His brief infatuation with the actress Sybil Vane (a touchingly vulnerable performance by Lucy Handley) reveals his selfishness and provokes Sybil’s brother (a convincingly dour Ben Riches). Towards the end of the play, this engaging adaptation highlights the reason for Dorian’s downfall: he has taken Harry at his word and put his debauched philosophy into practice instead of merely talking about it flippantly.
This is a superb evening’s entertainment with high production values. Each member of the cast is to be congratulated on their individual sterling performances and also for their impressive team work. A talented group of young Progress theatre actors who show huge promise and will doubtless delight future audiences!
- The Progress Theatre website and Facebook page
- ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ at the Progress Theatre
- Progress Theatre tickets
- Progress Youth Theatre