The Picture of Dorian Gray injects horror onto the stage

GBC theatre school creates a cinematic experience from a gothic text

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

“This is like a really good episode of American Horror Story.”

That’s how director Alistair Newton described his portrayal of The Picture of Dorian Gray, a story about a man who is literally consumed by his own vanity.

The show opened at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts on Apr. 9 and was part of the George Brown Theatre School’s (GBTS) spring repository season.

The use of extravagant costumes paired with a wonderful soundscape made the production feel almost cinematic, however it still carried the theatricality and flair that one would expect from an Oscar Wilde text.

“Productions of Oscar Wilde do not always show his darkness, and with this adaptation it pushes it to the forefront,” said Newton.

Horror, especially from another time period, is incredibly difficult to translate onto the stage. Most notably through the decaying image of Sybil Vane’s ghost and the ensemble’s haunting narration, Newton succeeded in pushing that darkness into the production.

The play could not have thrived without such an all-star cast from GBTS. Eric Ollivier, in particular played an impressively human Dorian Gray. He took a naturalistic approach to his performance which anchored the story into a true gothic horror.

The ensemble worked like a tightly-knit machine. Whether it be through the choreography, a haunting live choral number, or a perfectly-timed set of monologues the ensemble did not falter in supporting and adding to the narrative.

Newton emphasized that the actors had to understand their character’s social structure of the time. This allowed the ensemble who largely played house staff to add another layer of authenticity to the production, whilst keeping the drama with dynamic performances from all.

The production also portrayed homo-eroticism and the taboo of homosexuality in a way that felt true to the time, without having actually been to nineteenth-century England. It also featured a historical drag queen unique to GBTS’s production, Stella Clinton whose omnipresence lead the ensemble.

Aside from a few reasonable opening-night jitters, the production was largely successful. I will say however that although the character was beautiful and haunting, I needed a bit more from Jacob Fulton’s portrayal of Stella Clinton.

I also recognize that it is no small feat to dress up in drag for the first time, lip-sync, and still come across as both feminine and haunting. I commend Fulton for his performance and I think with a little more energy his character could easily become the star of the show.

Did the production scare me as much as a network television show with unlimited resources such as American Horror Story? No. But I understand where Newton was coming from.

The Picture of Dorian Gray gave the audience a more chilling sense of horror that did not rely on gore or special effects. The play’s commentary on death, aging and society’s obsession with youth, paired with how far that obsession can go created a much more realistic sense of terror.

Time will kill and decay every living thing in this world, including you and me. That’s a slightly more chilling concept than a fictitious haunted house.

This production is being staged at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tankhouse Lane, Toronto and runs until Apr. 20. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students (student ID required) and can be purchased from the Young Centre’s website.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray injects horror onto the stage