The Picture of Dorian Gray at the White Rabbit Cocktail Club – review

Dorian Gray

Photograph: Second Skin Theatre

With its gilded mirrors, dark gothic interior and low red lighting the White Rabbit Cocktail Club is the perfect setting for Second Skin Theatre Company’s new production of The Picture of Dorian Gray, directed by Andy McQuade.

However, fans of the fin-de-siècle should probably remain upstairs, as Rob Johnston’s reimagining of Oscar Wilde’s novel sees the famous aesthete as an investment banking cheat making big bucks by fixing the London Olympic bid of 2005.

The pursuit of beauty and artistic perfection is not what drives this Dorian, for what is art but another lucrative commodity to be bought and sold?

The main action revolves around the estranged Dorian and his trio of former friends whose increasingly desperate attempts to bring him back from ‘the dark side’ fail with dramatic consequences. Dorian is a BlackBerry-wielding investment banker. His ex-friends Sybil (Eliose Black) and James Vane (Toby Liszt) might be compared to are Occupy activists.

Laura Pradelska is intriguing as the androgynous lead. McQuade’s direction has her alternating between intense vulnerability and sociopathic cruelty. Taking her cue from Baz’s observation that the eyes of Dorian’s portrait follow the viewer around the room, Pradelska’s expressive glances and glacial smiles are at first eccentric but become increasingly disturbing.

The tension builds between Dorian’s rampant individualism and the idealistic ethical positions of the two hypocritical siblings.

Of all Dorian’s ‘human’ friends – as opposed to the banking ‘gods’ – the self-effacing gay artist Baz, played in a standout performance from George Collie, is the most sympathetic.

Unlike Wilde’s Dorian, whose Faustian tryst is broken when Basil drives a dagger through his decaying portrait, the final scenes of Johnston’s Picture present an intriguing twist to Dorian’s descent into crazed megalomania.

This arresting performance of Dorian Gray, in which private tragedy is merely anecdotal currency to be traded in London’s wine bars and values only have meaning on the stock exchange, is uncomfortably close to home.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Until 23 June 2013

White Rabbit Theatre
125 Stoke Newington Church Street
N16 0UH