Theatre review: The Picture of John Gray at the Old Red Lion Theatre

The Picture of John Gray

The Picture of John Gray - Credit: Archant

The similarities in title are deliberate. In C.J. Wilmann’s new play, audiences are treated to a hypothetical extension of the true story behind Oscar Wilde’s Faustian-like parable, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

It is an engaging, vibrant and incisive work.

We find the titular John Gray (Patrick Walshe McBride) shortly after the novel’s release in 1890.

Basking in the flattering glow of textual immortalisation, he is unknowingly on the verge of being cast aside by Wilde for a new man.

While we never meet Wilde during the play, we do become familiar with his cocky and articulate new paramour. We also meet other peripheral characters, including the French critic Andre Raffalovich (Christopher Tester), whose significance to the story grows as the narrative unfolds.


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We are led through Gray’s quandaries, as he finds love and happiness, and is subsequently presented with a stark choice.

Lewd

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When news arrives that Wilde has been arrested for engaging in lewd conduct with young men, not only are we reminded that this was not a tolerant society towards homosexuality, but the characters themselves are forced to think about their actions.

How does this pressure rest with Gray? Will he choose illicit love?

Or will he choose his other love – the church?

To indicate the success of Wilmann’s writing and the excellence of the cast’s performance, in the first act, the troupe convene for a dinner party.

Being a group of budding poets, it doesn’t take long before they take it in turns to recite their work in front of one another.

Not only is it a scene that fizzes with a kinetic energy, but there is a growing reveal as to the measure of shared history with spoken, and unspoken, resentments and rivalries thrown open for the audience to see.

It is reminiscent of the sort of thing film-maker Mike Leigh would create.

The play struggles to hit those heights again, but it is wonderful all the same.

Rating: Four stars

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