Sarah Snook stuns in this Wilde adaptation

This one-woman stage adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s short horror is a dizzying technical masterpiece, boasting a tour-de-force performance from Sarah ‘Shiv Roy’ Snook in a multitude of roles.

It is also incredibly camp. As in literally one of the campest things I’ve ever seen, a show that makes ‘Mamma Mia!’ look like a monster truck rally.

Wilde was of course, famously both gay and a waspish wit, and ‘Dorian Gray’ contains some of his most famous aphorisms (‘conscience and cowardice and the same things’, ‘the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it’ etc). But there is something particularly revelatory about adaptor-director Kip Williams staging it as pretty close to a celebrity drag king show. Snook plays every single character; many minor roles are pre-recorded and consequently she is able to be lavishly costumed up in parts that range from elderly pink-haired gentlewomen to rough, bearded scoundrels. 

On the whole these bits are less kitschy than her actual live performance: surrounded by a battalion of camera operators, Snook is constantly giving knowing, eyebrow-raising close-ups as she flits between characters, each camera angle typically representing a different speaker. 

Early on, Aussie Snook does little more than a quick expression change and tweak of her English accent when leaping between characters: when she initially walks on there’s virtually nothing on stage bar a large video screen. Things get fancier when she claps on blonde curls and mutton chops to play the angelic young Dorian, a beautiful, innocent young man discovered by painter Basil Hallward. (If you’re somehow unfamiliar: Dorian becomes ever more corrupt, but remains beautiful, the ageing instead done by Basil’s portrait of him).

But the wonder of Williams’s production is in how much it builds and builds. At first it looks like it’s going to be a showcase for Snook’s ‘range’. And if kind of is, in the same way that the Eurovision Song Contest is a showcase for the music of Europe.

Gradually, more is introduced: more screens, carrying pre-recorded footage that the live Snook interacts with; more sets, as the stage memorably fills with a vivid, artificially shaded sea of dried flowers; more Snooks (at one point five pre-recorded versions of her sit down to dinner with the live one); more ideas: later characters are created with phone filters that are related live from device in Snook’s hand. It peaks with a couple of clubby, darkly euphoric sections that squarely conjoin the narcissism of Wilde’s day with that of ours (if indeed there’s any difference).

It unfurls into a truly dazzling technical construct, a trippy, doomy two hour odyssey. Snook deserves an Olivier just for hitting her cues, frankly, and her accent work and way with an ironic close up are second to none – the woman can really gurn, and there’s not a trace of vanity in a performance that frequently has a camera so close in her face we can practically see her cerebellum. There are a raft of creatives who deserve singling out from this production that originated in Sydney (sans Snook): set and costume designer Marg Horwell and video designer David Bergman are perhaps the two biggies, but it’s an exemplary team. 

Stunning, but it’s not exactly heavy on emotional depth, mind. Although the text is basically just Wilde’s story as read out by Snook, the arch, ironic reading offers little room for sympathy, horror or even seeing it as any sort of cautionary lesson. It‘s a turn! A big spectacular turn! It’s exhilarating but basically shallow. And why not? The creative team have shown us something remarkable, Wilde’s story is as legitimate and entertaining as it is a warning, and Snook is way beyond needing to prove to anyone that she can do Serious Acting. A cabaret tour de force, that feels like it’s simultaneously beamed in from Wilde’s England and a hundred years into our future.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *