Over the centuries alchemists sought to discover two important secrets. Firstly, how to turn base metal into gold and, more importantly, to find or invent the magic elixir that guarantees eternal youth – a search which continues in earnest even today. The English philosopher Bertrand Russell had advice for how not to grow old, suggesting you should, “make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal”. Might work, but doesn’t sound very exciting.
Many actors believe they have solved the problem by using head-shots that are twenty-five years old – but this doesn’t really work as the truth is revealed when they walk on stage. Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray had a much better idea – he sold his soul so that it was his portrait hidden away in the attic that got old while he stayed young and able to indulge in a lot of jolly good sins.
Whichever way you look at it, it is a fascinating idea on many levels, one which is explored by the Ulrike Quade Company and Silbersee with a slightly different, very contemporary twist. There are many allusions in Wilde’s story, ranging from Tannhäuser to the more obvious Faust and this production introduces us to another, a sort of digital Frankenstein monster.
The mise en scène is a symphony in white with a giant shell-like dome and some sort of desk control centre. Three characters, all in white, stand at the side of the stage – the scientist, the artist and a giggling woman.
The soundtrack is implemented live by the performers through a series of various microphones attached to them and the desk. A throat mic provides a lot of reverby gurgling and swallowing sounds while the flat smooth surface of the desk provides keyboards for both computer and synthesizer.
Our rather laid back Dorian is soon revealed inside the giant clamshell-cum-womb and sings in a fine tenor voice while the scientist tries to upstage him with some Saturday night disco moves and the hirsute artist watches passively from the side-lines.
Then we get down to the nitty-gritty and our hero has to make an important choice. The scientist offers him eternal life full of fun and pleasure while the artist proposes to create a statue of him which will preserve his beauty for all eternity. The thought of growing old only to be constantly reminded of what he once was persuades Dorian to go with the fun-now-and-forever option. He is given a pleasure-inducing headset which blows his brains out so we are left only with the life-size articulated mannequin to remember him by.
It is hard to pigeon-hole this piece. There is song, there is speech, there is movement and there is live music/sound created on stage by the four performers – Job Hubatka, Maarten Vinkenoog, André Lourenço and Kadri Tegelmann. Ulrike Quade and Romain Bischoff’s concept deserve high praise for originality and execution as do those involved with design, composition, dramaturgy, costumes and everything else.
I liked the guy playing Mr Gray, not only did he have a fine tenor voice but was very meek, mild and malleable. I also liked the girl who made an excellent Sybilla, his seductive girlfriend.
Should one describe this Dorian Gray as drama, opera or performance art and does it need to be defined at all? Did they create gold? Possibly not, but they certainly have produced a little gem. And eternal life? Maybe not eternal, but what they have created is a show that will stay young and vibrant for as long as it is performed and which is, above all, excellent theatre. Highly recommended.
Michael Hasted 14th December 2018