Originally published on A Younger Theatre
As a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the publication of Oscar Wilde’s most recognisable work, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Another Soup has brought its immersive, musical version of the classic to the King’s Head Theatre, after a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2014.
At the heart of the work is an exploration of vice, debauchery and self-interest in Wilde’s Victorian London. The play covers Dorian’s superficial fascination with artist Basil Hallward and his associate Lord Henry Wotton, and observes the destructive impact this shallow worshipping has on the young man and those he negatively impacts. Basil’s painting allows Dorian to behave in a hedonistic manner while at the same time maintaining his outer beauty, as the painting takes the main brunt of physical decay this lifestyle can give.
It’s certainly helpful to be familiar with the plot of Dorian Gray before entering Another Soup’s realisation of the novel, as the details of the narrative are not able to be thoroughly explained under the conditions of an immersive musical of only 80 minutes in length; but the energetic performances help the audience to be forgiving of any narrative pitfalls.
After the initial awkwardness of the cast making small talk with non-suspecting audience members on their way into the theatre, the immersive elements of the show work surprisingly well. The cast are daring and confident enough to embrace the immersive element of the production and engage with the audience successfully throughout, moving them out of seats, encouraging them to waltz, demanding they stand and, finally, herding them out of the theatre at the show’s close. Although at times this level of actor and audience member interaction is clumsy, it is quite enjoyable to be a part of.
The cast size has been reduced from its run in Edinburgh, from twelve to four, with two musicians making sparse speaking contributions. Bar Samuel Woodhams who remains the titular stoic beauty throughout, the cast masterfully flit in between rotating roles with seeming ease. Though attempts are made to interact with the melancholy aspects of Wilde’s work, the strengths of Another Soup’s production are mostly born of a playful approach to the work that the cast seem to have, perhaps best realised during a musical number toward the end of the show where Thomas Judd and Blair Robertson perform in drag.
The same sense of jovial interpretation can relate to the musical additions made, which are interesting but not entirely successful and perhaps arguably gimmicky. There are a few scenes where the music seems to serve the text and happen almost organically, but mostly it is fairly jarring to have the cast burst into song.
It’s a warm interpretation of Wilde’s great classic that has the capacity to attract and entertain a far-reaching audience by not taking itself too seriously.