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Interview | London theatremakers give Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray a sordid gothic spin

By Troy Nankervis

When the handsome Dorian Gray comes to London town he’s soon the name on everyone’s lips, leaving a trail of sordid lies in his wake – so goes the story of Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray.

A new adaptation of the iconic novel by Pregnant Fish Theatre sees the young, London based company depict the “beautiful and the demonic side by side” while interweaving gothic horror with movement and music.

When the company first visited Wilde’s iconic text four years ago, their production toured London, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Exeter’s The Bike Shed Theatre.

And to mark the 125th anniversary of the original novel’s publication, Pregnant Fish Theatre are remounting The Picture of Dorian Gray.

We caught up with the show’s director Tom Drayton ahead of its March season in London at The Space.


Great to chat with you Tom! You first staged this production back in 2012, what’s inspired this new season?

It’s the 125th anniversary this year of the publication of the original novel, and so it became time to revisit this, and see what we could do. It’s been so good to come back with fresh eyes to see what works, and what needed to be improved – and we’ve really improved it ten fold.

Drawing from Oscar Wilde’s original novel, what was the most interesting aspect of adapting The Picture of Dorian Gray? And was there something they drew you in as a starting point? 

Dorian Gray really relates to a lot of different kinds of inner turmoil, and what really interested me is that you have Oscar While obviously writing in 1891 about all these feelings and urges he had, but couldn’t explicitly state.

He [Dorian] goes around to all these sordid places in London, but you’re never explicitly told what he does. And for me that was the really interesting thing, and after reading the book, you start to put your own vices and sins into what Dorian does, and the “unspeakable things” that Wilde implies become the “erroneously unspeakable”.

And so for me, the whole text, the whole original novel is a mirror to the reader. What we want to do with the production, and what I wanted to do with my adaptation was really play with that and show that. The picture itself is a giant mirror that reflects the audience back on themselves, every time Dorian looks into it, you can see yourself in this mirror as well.

dorian poster

And what new things have come from revisiting the material?

We’ve got a lot of new cast members, which is brilliant, and the music has been rejigged and rewritten. We’re an ensemble-focused company, and I kind of feel the director is not there to tell people what to do, but to pull the strings together when people have explored things.

And obviously new people bring new things to light. It adds new flesh to the characters and story. For instance, the relationship between the three main guys, Dorian (David Hepburn), Henry (Nye Pascoe) and Basil (Rodrigo De La Roza) has become so much more three-dimensional.

Oscar Wilde described them as “three different aspects of himself.” He said Dorian is what he’d like to be in other ages, Basil is how he sees himself now, and Henry is how the world sees him. They were originally written as characters that didn’t have flesh and blood, but what’s been brilliant about this extra time to workshop is we have found the real humanity behind these characters.

It’s a hugely physical show with lots of stylised movement. We really get into the depths of what Wilde was getting at, and what he was trying to explain through his prose, but in a physical way. It’s powerful, sexual, intense and intimate, and we really explore that.


How does your adaptation explore gay sexuality and broader gay themes from the novel? 

That whole aspect of it is incredibly interesting, because of the time Oscar Wilde was writing in. He met some incredible men around that time, and Dorian Gray was almost a call to like-minded people at that time, because he wanted to advocate his sexuality.

Basically, Wilde was enjoying it [sex] so much. He enjoyed the male form, the idea of male love and especially Greek love and the adoration of the physical male. There’s a whole love story in that.

We really wanted to utilise that in a way that doesn’t take away from the limitations Oscar Wilde had to have in the story itself, but treat it in a way that’s truthful, and that bases itself on the idea of adoration and love.

Dorian for me was never just about gay love or straight love. Dorian defies limits and labels and I really wanted to portray someone who falls in love in everybody and everything. Oscar Wilde was proclaiming love not just for the male form, but also for loving things and sensations and the world around you.

Times are obviously quite different to Victorian London. Does the production make a statement about finding love in a modern world?

Obviously it’s a very different time, and now the things Dorian would have done or at least implied would not have had such of an effect.

What interested me in that is that it’s not particularly about one person, or the self – it relates to the people around you, the people you affect throughout your life and how you can hurt the ones you love.

That speaks to anybody of any generation at the minute really, but particularly in this kind of self-obsessed world, which is of course hugely about vanity.

The tragedy of the show is that we feel for Dorian because he doesn’t realise what he is doing to other people and to other families. He finally recognises that at the end, and obviously the picture is there as a reminder.

Within this society of “me, me, me” and with social media, it’s important to remember everybody is affected by your actions, and Dorian speaks to that.


Sir Ian McKellen is a patron of The Space, the venue where you’re staging the show. Do you think he’ll come along to check it out?

I would absolutely love him to! He’s an absolutely wonderful man who brings a lot of joy to people. He would have a great impact on people seeing the show, and we really want to get all the generations coming to see it.

We try to make shows that could have such relevance from late teens to Sir Ian McKellen’s age. I really try to make Wilde accessible for people, and yes it would be brilliant if he showed up!


The Picture of Dorian Gray runs from 22nd March to 2nd April at the Space (Tuesday – Saturday) at 7.30pm. 

Tickets can be booked through The Space website.

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