August 22, 2008

Dorian Gray Gets Bourne Identity

By Liam Rudden Arts and

Choreographer brings Wilde tale up to date

CONSIDERED one of the last great works of gothic horror, The Picture of Dorian Gray was the only novel written by Oscar Wilde ever published.

When Dorian Gray sits for a portrait, the artist Basil Hallward becomes infatuated by his beauty. Through Hallward, Gray is introduced to Lord Henry Wotton, and quickly becomes enthralled by Wotton's hedonistic world view: the only thing worth pursuing in life is beauty and the fulfilment of the senses.

Realising that his looks will fade, Gray enters into a Faustian pact in which Hallward's portrait of him will age rather than himself. And so begins his downfall.

The tale first appeared as a story in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1890 and was later revised and published a year later 1891.

The latest adaptation of the novel premiere's on the stage of the King's Theatre tonight, when Matthew Bourne and his dance company New Adventures turn their attention to Wilde's classic in their first new production in three years.

Now set in the image-obsessed world of contemporary art and politics, Matthew Bourne's 'black fairy tale' tells the story of an exceptionally alluring young man who makes a pact with the devil.

Among London's beautiful people, Dorian Gray is the 'It Boy' - an icon of beauty and truth in an increasingly ugly world.

The production is designed by Lez Brotherston, Bourne's collaborator on five previous productions, including the famously successful all-male version of Swan Lake, the work which helped the choreographer to stamp his mark on the dance world.

So how much of the original story remains? "There is quite a lot of Wilde in it still, and the story of this beautiful young man getting corrupted. But I wanted to make the story more contemporary, so Lez and I had a lot of discussions about period," he says.

"At first we were thinking of the 1960s, but that's a period we love and keep going back to. I wanted to push us outside our comfort zone. So we're setting it in the present - which is quite scary for us."

In Bourne's modern take on the classic, Gray's image is not captured on a picture in the attic but immortalised in an advertising campaign.

"We were trying to think how a person would become the talk of the town today, and it had to be through an image that you see everywhere," explains the acclaimed choreographer.

"So Hallward is going to be an iconic photographer, someone like Annie Leibovitz, and Dorian is going to become the face of a new perfume, like in a Calvin Klein ad."

Another way in which the new adaptation strays from the original source material is Bourne's decision to make the character of Lord Henry - the instigator of Gray's downfall - a female.

"My first revelation was to turn Lord Henry into a woman, probably into one of those very strong female editors in the magazine world," he says.

"Then I thought of having Sibyl become Cyril, a male ballet dancer. In the novel, when Dorian falls in love with an actress, it comes from nowhere, given that he's been in this bitchy triangle with Lord Henry and Basil. It makes much more sense to have Sybil as a man."

It seems this production is sure to live up to Bourne's promise earlier in the year that "Dorian Gray will be a bit different. Like all my pieces it will be full of surprises and things that people aren't expecting."

At the time he added, "It's so hard to say what will shock, but I think it will be daring and push the boundaries because I am dealing with strong themes in this one."

Tonight, on the stage of the King's Theatre, all will be revealed.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, King's Theatre, Leven Street, tonight- August 30 (not Monday), 8pm, (Saturday matinees 2.30pm), GBP 15-GBP 30, 0131-473 2000

Originally published by Liam Rudden Arts and Entertainment Editor.

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