Theatre review: Selfie at Ambassadors Theatre

national youth theatre performs Selfie

national youth theatre performs Selfie - Credit: Archant

The National Youth Theatre’s modern take on The Picture of Dorian Grey, is confident and energetic. Loud and clear, it proclaims that, in spite of different times, different mores, technical advances, the human race has learned nothing since Oscar Wilde wrote the original story. We are vain, greedy, self-deluding, superficial, cruel and stupid – and the cause of our own downfall.

Congratulations, first of all, to the design team. They give a hint of Oscar Wilde’s asceticism by some beautiful projections (presumably by Verity Quinn and colleagues) onto gauze. As well as giving pleasure, these are an interesting and disturbing contrast with the onstage set – a neglected and derelict London – as well as with the tasteless extravagance of the costumes (byTeresa Pocas and Helena Bonner).

The most significant departure from Oscar Wilde’s classic is that, in this version, Dorian Grey is a woman. Also, it is not a painting which makes her famous, but a touched-up photograph. Although at first incredulous and delighted by the picture, Dorian is at the same time uneasily aware that she is not the ideal beauty it represents. She comes within an ace of deleting it. But her vanity is tickled and she is flattered by the accolades of a crowd of trendy sycophants, their eyes alight with greed, who exploit her mercilessly for their own ends.

Tall and statuesque, Kate Kennedy gives a performance of subtlety and depth as Dorian. A combination of insecurity and over- confidence, she is, initially, an ordinary young woman, but becomes increasingly ruthless in her desperation to hang on to her beauty, the sole basis of her career as a celebrity. Meantime, the photograph starts to change, slowly but surely portraying the face that she now increasingly deserves.

She lives in a society of the not-too-distant future, where over-privileged go-getters rule ok, and disadvantaged, honest people, do not have a chance. Dorian’s lover, Sybil Vane, a naïve and talented singer, played movingly by Ellie Bryans, is driven to suicide. Her troubled and angry brother, James, played convincingly by Fabian McCallum, sees his life crumbling about him. And her loving, anxious mother, Hope (Igra Rizwan), struggles in a world she does not understand.

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The other characters are mostly stereotypes: clever, amusing, often hilarious, but not ultimately convincing. This could be a consequence of the script having been written by “Brad Birch and the N.Y.T. Rep. Company”. Too many people have come up with too many ideas. Every contemporary problem and injustice is dragged in, crowding out the main themes and narrowing the scope of the actors. That said, there are many wonderfully witty and insightful lines, making for a constantly entertaining and thought-provoking performance.

Rating: 3/5 stars.

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