"Join the party at Dorian's"
by Ellie Dawes for remotegoat on 21/08/13

As we knock on the grand black door of a house in Greenwich I wonder if we've found the right address, when it creaks open to reveal a friendly looking housekeeper in Victorian dress. She takes our coats, furnishes us with a drink and shows us into the garden where we are immediately transported to Wilde’s world of languid drinks parties where the bright and the beautiful have nothing to see to but their own entertainment.

Many people have become wary of immersive theatre, as a result of too many productions which see uncomfortable levels of audience participation. Often you can expect to be accosted, groped and made to do almost as much work as the actors, who one feels are having rather more fun. There is nothing to worry about with the Alchemic Order who clearly direct us around and keep us deeply immersed in the atmosphere of the tale, without having to actively participate.

In sumptuously decorated rooms, in a house that has been extensively modified for the production, we see the artist, Basil Hallward, painting his new friend the handsome and boyish Dorian and introducing him to the corrupting influence of hedonistic Henry Wotton. I really enjoyed the dynamic between these three actors, in particular Samuel Orange’s louche and flirtatious Lord Henry is a perfect comic contrast to the concerned and heartfelt Basil (Harry August).

This is very sexy Oscar Wilde, the characters are delightfully camp, and the undertone of forbidden sexuality is brought to the fore. Our jovial drinks reception, the comically bad performance of Dorian’s sweetheart actress Sybil Vane (the delightful Ashlie Walker) and Henry Wotton rattling off Wilde’s epithets with relish make the first half funny and light-hearted. Even when Dorian’s rejection of Sybil leads to tragedy, we’re in such a jovial mood we almost agree with his decision to feel no remorse and move on.

The atmosphere changes after the interval, during which the housekeeper reads my tarot cards and we can spy Sybil’s mother weeping and wailing through a glass ceiling in the room below us. When a sombre procession heralds the second half we are firmly on the journey with the characters and now 18 years have passed and Dorian has slipped inexorably towards corruption, vice and darkness. However Dorian’s face remains as young and lovely as ever, it is of course the portrait, the one Basil painted, hidden in the attic room that displays plainly the corruption of his soul.

Being so immersed in the light-hearted fun of the first half, we are similarly entrenched in the darker world of opium dens, duplicity and murder. We watch most of this from the garden, with action taking place around us and at windows in the house. Like Basil, we are distanced from Dorian as his character becomes darker and this gives a disturbing edge. This is a production that knows how much horror to show us and how much to imply and keep out of sight.

This evening was simply great fun: funny, disturbing, novel and performed with an infectious warm enthusiasm. Well worth buying a ticket, take a coat if it’s going to be a chilly evening.

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