Monday, March 14, 2022




Eryn Jean Norvill in The Picture of Dorian Gray 

The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Adapted and directed by Kip Williams. Featuring Eryn Jean Norvill. Designer Marg Horwell. Lighting Designer Nick Schlieper. Composer and Sound Designer Clemence Williams. Video designer David Bergman, Sydney Theatre Company. Adelaide Festival. March 14-20 2022

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Director Kip Williams’s production of The Portrait of Dorian Gray is nothing short of genius, brilliantly worthy of Oscar Wilde’s moral tale of vanity and destruction. At its heart is Eryn Jean Norvill’s staggeringly magnificent performance, not only of the Adonis like Dorian Gray, but every character in Wilde’s novel. The entire show is a magical feat of technological wizardry and perfect timing, augmented by David Bergman’s ingenious video design, roaming videographers, costume dressers and  mobile phones.


 On stage Norvill plays the roles for the cameras. The performances are projected on to the screens that fly in to depict the scenes, while the stage hands/video operators and dressers change on stage sets, dress Norvill in view of the audience, hand her props both on the  stage and into the video. At times Norvill enters a video with herself in both roles of Basil Hallward, the unfortunate artist and the corrupting Lord Henry Wooton. With a commanding vocal range, Norvill sits at a table on the stage at one point as the beautiful Dorian Gray conversing with her own filmed characterizations of Wilde’s lampooned figures of society. Norvill assumes with such conviction, ease and gesture Wilde’s array of social elite such as Wooton’s Aunt Agatha, the facile Duchess of Monmouth and Sir Thomas the obsequious politician. Norvill’s range is phenomenal, her changes mercurial and Williams’s production moves at a riveting pace. 

The stage personnel move with lightning precision, changing sets, filming the moment, and changing costumes, hairstyles and props before the amazed eyes of the audience. Williams’s production is a  magic lantern production for the modern age. And yet the period is realized with authentic design by Marg Horwell, who captures the sumptuous opulence of  the period  and the art from Velasquez to Rossetti. Every aspect of creative design is impeccably researched from Horwell’s costume and set design to Nick Schlieper’s atmospheric lighting design and Clemence Williams’s composition and sound design . Combining the simple notes of the piano with the stirring rhythms of the classical and the contemporary use of musical comedy and rock, Williams’s composition is the evocation of the narrative. At one point, Norvill mimes Barbara Harris’s gutsy rendition of Passionaella’s “Look At Me I am Gorgeous” from Harnick and Bock’s The Apple Tree. It is the perfect number to express Dorian Gray’s vanity and narcissm. Wilde’s dark and cautionary tale about a beautiful young man’s corruption and descent into vile degradation is given new life and relevance in the Sydney Theatre Company production. 

 But this is no tricky gimmickry with new age technology. It remains true to Wilde’s satirical comment on his society and class. It is no tired drama, seeking to stage a faithful production of a Victorian novel. It is a dynamic, exhilarating re-imagining of Wilde’s moral tale with all the wonder and magic of the visual, the aural and the sensory delights of the theatre. Wilde’s wit shines brightly in Norvill’s performance. Such classic dictums as “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” colour Wilde’s dramatic accounts of Gray’s destruction of the actress Sybil Vane, his devilish descent into degradation, his murderous deeds and his eventual confrontation with guilt and  remorse. Throughout it all the stage is alive with the motion and drama of impending doom and the sense of loss captured with  remarkable reality by Norvill in a performance that raises her to the echelon of one of Australia’s leading actors. 

This is not the first time that Williams has played with technology.  I recall his production of The Irresistible Rise of Arturo Ui and more recently his three actor Julius Caesar. But his direction of The Picture of Dorian Gray exceeds all. It is an awe-inspiring flight of the imagination, which with Norvill and his creative team has not only brought Wilde’s wit and wisdom on to the contemporary stage, but has redefined the way theatre can excite and move audiences of our time. It is the New Age Theatre that like Wilde in his day can revitalize art and “hold as 'twere the mirror up to Nature” for all to see through the prism of our age.

The Sydney Theatree Company’s  startling production of The Picture of Dorian Gray is tour de force theatre that needs to be and must be seen. It is unmissable theatre at its very best!  

Photos  by Daniel Boud