Matthew Bourne's Dorian Gray

New Adventures at the Edinburgh International Festival

King's Theatre, Edinburgh International Festival, 30 August 20083.5 stars

Matthew Bourne's Dorian GrayMatthew Bourne's world première adaptation of Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray is a dark, sinister, yet deeply poignant account of the illustrious work.

Bringing it into the present day the story shifted its focus to the modern world of catwalk fashion, where beauty, the beautiful and fame mix along with the darker side of celebrity, sex, drugs and in this case, violence and death.

Capturing the celebrity life, the story followed Dorian Gray (Richard Winsor), who rose to fame after being discovered by photographer, Basil, danced exceptionally by Aaron Sillis. The love interest sparked between these two was clever and revealed a multi-faceted depth to Bourne's direction. As the pair dance in a homoerotic pas de deux (at first tentatively and then more suggestively), themes of beauty, youth and fascination with the camera emerge. The photographs from Basil's lens are captured on a billboard, enshrining Dorian as the face of Immortal, a perfume for men. As the story sours and the camera becoming grotesque so does the poster, degenerating, ripping and becoming torn as time progresses.

Matthew Bourne's Dorian GrayQuite remarkable was the way in which Winsor transformed the character of Dorian Gray from a reserved waiter to a model celebrity. A shy stature soon developed as he discovered the extent of the camera's influence and its gaze. Along the way, he is mentored by Lady H (Wilde's Lord Henry played by the graceful but stern Michela Meazza), a powerful fashion icon and business woman; and Cyril (Wilde's Sybil), a vain male ballet dancer whom Dorian lusts after but who ultimately is more interested in maintaining his artistic physique, stretching and pointing his toes at every turn. The changed gender of these two characters and its shift to modern day times did add to the success of the production and generated unusual and impressive choreography. References to the present day world such as Jonathan Ross' Saturday night television show were cleaver and full of wit. It has to be noted that Lez Brotherston's rotating stage was quite dramatic, as were the slick and very quick costume changes.

However, Terry Davies' score was dull and failed to develop. Its pop-oriented, fashionable, pumping, techno music allowed for no depth in writing, for reflection or even for rest. Repetitive rhythmic patterns going on and on grew monotonous. Even the inclusion of the live band did not improve matters as their small snippets of music only continued in this trend: the minimal chords in the piano, the simplest of guitar gestures and a non-improvising percussionist left me in astonishment that such able, conservatoire-trained musicians had to endure these simple, repeated riffs.

Naturally, the music for the nightclub scene in the second act reflected what Davies does best. It was high powered and seductive, but sounded much like the rest of the score. (This was also one of the best dance ensemble scenes). Some nice musical touches did appear in the transformative music of the make-over scene in the first act: 'technical beeps' of a doctor's heart machine referenced the scene to a medical room. Equally, the radio alarm clock at the beginning of each act, (the second being an extract from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, cut off just before the famous melody) did provide some humour. However, the score's main saving grace was the consistency in musical motives encoded and attributed for each dancer, appearing in the music when the dancers took to the stage.

It was a disappointing aspect to an otherwise fantastic and moving production.

By Mary Robb

Preview of the 2008 Edinburgh International Festival:

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Previous reviews of the Edinburgh International Festival :

Ruhe (2008)
Mischa Maisky (2008)
Scottish Opera performs Smetana's The Two Widows (2008)
Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (2008)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Ades (2007)
San Francisco Symphony/Tilson Thomas (2007)
Optical Identity (T'ang Quartet) (2007)
A Celebration of Poulenc (2007)