The chandeliered and gothic-themed White Rabbit Cocktail bar on Church Street is the perfect setting for this retelling of Oscar Wilde’s timeless classic. Andy McQuade, the artistic director of Second Skin Theatre, teams up with Laura Pradelska from Game of Thrones in this androgynous modern version by Rob Johnston.
Johnston relocates the pomp and high society in the pre-crash hyper-financial world of trust fund companies spread betting and soon to be bust investment banking. It is 2005 and Dorian, a highflying city slicker, has left his/her circle of left-leaning friends and family James (Toby Liszt), Baz (George Collie), Sybil (Eloise Black) not for the lure beauty but limitless money and ultimately its seductive power in a world free from morality and consequences.
The unveiling of his portrait takes place at the bank, and we – the audience – are in some ways that picture, looking on helplessly as we watch Dorian descent into ruthless murder and obsession with power. Dorian’s great coup is to have wagered vast sums on the securing of the 2005 Olympic bid, which is the opening and closing images of the play on a flat screen TV in his office.
The themes are neatly handled in this context, and resonate with the Occupy Movement at St Paul’s and the powerlessness of the public to do anything in the face of this ballooning world of hyper capitalism. There are some excellent performances from all the cast. The scenes between Dorian and James are compelling as are many of the monologues, which give depth to the narrative. George Collie’s personal fireside recollection of the last days of Diana, and Black’s heart-wrenching story of a 70-year-old shoplifter she defended in court.
Laura Pradelska, wearing a sharp suit and heels with a slicked blonde ponytail, delivers a strong performance directing much of her narration directly to the audience whilst maintaining a mask that subtly betrays her contempt. We are humans in this version, underlings of our financial superiors.
There are hints that Dorian originally moved into this world with the intention of bringing ‘them’ down form the inside but the corrupting nature of the ‘persistence of power’ drowns this notion. It is even suggested at the end that the 7/7 bombings were indeed orchestrated by the powerful as sadly we watch how James Vane’s attempt to exact justice on Dorian on discovering he has killed the others is blown to pieces.
This is a well directed and carefully thought out piece that, whilst paying homage to Wilde’s characters and themes, takes the idea and runs with it. What we are left with is a cynical picture of the modern powerful elite we can’t reach and can’t change, told by a balanced and colourful ensemble.
The Picture of Dorian Gray runs until June 23 at:
The White Rabbit Cocktail Club
125 Stoke Newington Church Street
Box Office: 0203 556 3350