Friday, 16 July 2021

REVIEW: Dorian: A New Rock Musical on Stream.Theatre

When you advertise a new work as a “glam rock musical, re-energising Oscar Wilde’s classic text for a modern audience” you naturally invite comparison with what has gone before. As a result, as you watch this 100-minute production you reflect on David Bowie’s Lazarus or the Barn Theatre’s modern adaptation of A Picture of Dorian Grey both streamed during the last year to great success or to the classic Rock Musicals such as The Who’s Tommy, Jim Steinman’s Bat out of Hell or of course Queen’s We Will Rock You with the soaring scores. Inevitably this new work captured in London in June 2021 falls short.

The Barn’s adaptation was an extraordinary disturbing modern retelling of the story of obsessive desire for beauty and sensual fulfilment with a wonderful cinematic capture and an evocative quietly threatening underscore that elevated the piece into a gripping modern gothic horror story. Everything is seen through the ubiquitous cameras of modern life to create a compelling disturbing warning about the impact of social media on the mental health of those obsessed by it. In Dorian, we have the original story and character names but reset as an aspiring rock star with his mentor/producer Lord Henry (played by John Addison) and his tragic interactions with Sibyl Vane, Basil Hallward and Charlie Rose (played by Robert Grose) on his way up to stardom in the first act and then his drug-fuelled decline at the height of his fame in the second and rejection of his “devil’s disciple” Adrian (played by Tristan Pegg, looking like an ex-member of The Clash).

Occasionally the music by Joe Evans shows promise as in the Bowie-like “Can you hear me?” which opens the production and in “Son of Love and Death” both sung by Bart Lambert as Dorian Grey. The reflective lyrics which set out the back story after the funeral of his grandfather who murdered his father start to create a feel for the character and musical style. However, the stilted dialogue, episodic narrative and thinly sketched characters prevent the story from developing in an engaging way. Later Lady Henry (played by Johanna Stanton) sings “Devil’s bargain” which again shows promise with a seductive tone before “Face of Truth” provides a good conclusion with two of his victims (Basil played by Lewis Rae and Sibyl played by Fia Houston-Hamilton) taunting him. Too many of the other songs are dark, depressing dirges.

The settings vary with some quite sumptuous and interesting locations for Basil’s studio, Dorian’s Gothic mansion and Sibyl’s dressing room but other locations such as a bar and the club are barely dressed and lack atmosphere. Oddly though there is a ten-year gap between Act 1 and Act 2 in which Dorian due to his pact with the devil does not age, neither do any of the other characters age in the period noticeably. However, generally, it is a good capture with clear audio and appropriate lighting which many streams over the last year have failed to achieve. 

Writing new musicals is a tough job requiring much effort, workshopping, and rewriting to produce a polished product. This has the feel of work in progress and though the cast works hard to energise the storytelling, it fails to hold the attention throughout on a laptop view and does not sufficiently breathe new life into the classic story in the way the Barn’s version did.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★

Seat: Online until the 12th August | Price of Ticket: £15
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