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Sarah Snook plays a succession of 26 characters… and what a Wilde success! PATRICK MARMION reviews the TV star’s West End debut in The Picture of Dorian Gray


The Picture of Dorian Gray, Haymarket Theatre, London

Rating:

Well, if you thought this might be a chance to catch the real Siobhan Roy, or rather the real Sarah Snook, unmediated by a film crew (as she is in TV’s Succession), then you’d be wrong.

No, much more exciting than that, it’s a chance to see Snook wrestling with a high-tech theatrical monster in a daring, visually stunning and finally exhausting adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 19th-century novel.

Playing 26 characters from the book – and presenting them in the style of an art gallery video installation — this is a show that is as brilliant in its conception as it is mesmerising in its execution.

Playful and serious, it reinvents Wilde’s Jekyll and Hyde tale of a young socialite at first freed, and then tormented, by a portrait that keeps him looking young.

Snook is serviced like a Formula One racing driver by a team of crack stage hands and film crew, deftly and speedily fitting her with cigs, wigs, and facial hair.

Sarah Snook as Dorian, one of the 26 characters the actress plays during the production of The Picture Of Dorian Gray at Haymarket Theatre, London

Sarah Snook as Dorian, one of the 26 characters the actress plays during the production of The Picture Of Dorian Gray at Haymarket Theatre, London

The adaptation of Oscar Wilde's story features a kaleidoscope of canvases and high-tech effects

The adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s story features a kaleidoscope of canvases and high-tech effects

She turns to different cameras, presenting different characters in various roll-on, roll-off fin-de-siecle society London settings.

And all that’s relayed to a kaleidoscope of canvases, moving across the stage like gigantic screen savers. Inevitably, there are moments when you catch Snook’s famous Shiv in close-up – the recoil, the wince and the sceptical facial squeeze.

But this is a unique virtuoso performance, matching Wilde’s love of artifice with her own gender-fluid take on the story that is (fear not) never trite or woke. Instead, it is by turns intense, mischievous, elegant and grotesque.

She starts in neutral: hooded, snake-green peepers, eyeing us from beneath a neo-Thatcherite perm.

And then she cunningly mutates into the pretty boy socialite Dorian – winning a laugh with a curly Marilyn wig and stick-on whiskers, set off by a pink velvet coat.

Amusingly, she winds up looking like a blonde, corseted Elvis… after a two-hour work-out in the gym. One high point is a dinner party, featuring Snook dressed as six high-society gargoyles – including one with a lap dog sniffing at her ankles.

But her real acting chops go into the two main characters: Dorian’s smirking mentor Henry, who despatches some of Wilde’s finest aphorisms (‘It is not good for one’s morals to see bad acting’); and the talented but fearful artist friend Basil, who paints the dreaded portrait.

Kip Williams’ production, first seen in 2020 in Snook’s native Australia (starring Eryn Jean Norvill) augments the illusions with another avatar of Snook popping up behind her army of characters as a photo-bombing narrator.

But also woven through the show is music – ranging from Donna Summer to Handel, Vivaldi and Mahler – adding pulse, elegance and melancholy.

The want of an interval does make it hard work over the two hours, and a chase through woodland at the end has the feel of cod-Victorian melodrama in the style of Benny Hill.

But this is an exceptional and unusual piece of work that also presents Snook’s Dorian as a prototype TikTok influencer – editing her face on a mobile phone for plumper lips, longer lashes and bionic eyebrows – and bringing this cautionary tale bang up to date, in form and content.



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