Friday, 18 June 2021

Youngsters probe Wilde's questions of time and ageing

Youngsters probe Wilde's questions of time and ageing

The Picture of Dorian Gray | Progress Youth Theatre, Reading | Monday, December 11

OSCAR Wilde’s 1890 novel has been skilfully adapted into an impressive piece of theatre, designed for young actors from Progress, yet with no shying away from the deeper, philosophical ideas raised by this provocative text or from its complex language.

This Gothic tale of a charismatic young man who sells his soul to preserve his youth raises questions about time and ageing.

We are asked to consider if youth is the only thing really worth having. But class and society are also up for critique in this wry drama, as is individual desire; Dorian has to pay a high price for getting what he thinks he wants. It’s a very chequered morality that governs the tale of Dorian Gray. We are reminded not to judge anyone’s actions too hastily.

Think of Oscar Wilde and you think of art and beauty. This adaptation will not disappoint: the stylish set design draws attention to the preoccupations of aesthetic writers like Wilde, offering the audience paint splashes, wardrobes, purple velvet curtains, flowers, a chaise longue.

The story turns on the tension between a painting of a person and that person’s “real” self, insofar as any of us has a “real” self. Thus picture frames come into frequent use to emphasise illusion and artifice. Different identities are swiftly established by putting on a hat or picking up a prop. The play values beauty, but there’s an understanding that what’s inside a person matters as much as what’s on the outside.

The production moves with good pace, largely because of some clever grouping and carefully choreographed mime and movement. The committed young cast performs with great maturity; each member deserves mention. Archie Budge is splendid as the languorous Henry Wotton; he delivers some of Wilde’s famous aphorisms with great aplomb. Lorna Green makes an excellent Dorian, showing both composure and passion. James Laynesmith is convincing as artist Basil Hallward. Lucy Handley manages several roles, as does Cora Jamieson, who is surely an emerging character actress. Ben Riches turns his hand to a number of parts with both energy and skill.

A big bravo for this production. The script by Ali Carroll is an accomplished, fluent adaptation of the novel. The direction never falters. Go to this production to see some likely stars of the future on the Progress stage.

Until Saturday.

Susan Creed

Tickets are available by calling 0118 384 2169 — or for more information visit

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