Ratidzo Mambo and James Biasetto in The Trial of Dorian Gray.Credit:Jack Dixon-Gunn
THE TRIAL OF DORIAN GRAY ★★½
By Gabriel Bergmoser
Courthouse Hotel, North Melbourne, until Feb 2
“When the gods wish to punish us,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “they answer our prayers.”
An eternal verity, one might think – as true of the protagonist in Wilde’s lone novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, as it is of, say, Brexit, and the echo of its immortality has inspired this tantalising idea for a two-hander, in which Dorian survives the gruesome Gothic ending of the original book, lives into the 21st century, and walks among us today.
It begins with an eye-catching video montage of global events between the Victorian era and our own – the “angel of history” hovering behind the saturnine, almost demonic figure of Dorian, played by James Biasetto, as he flicks a Zippo on and off.
His youth and beauty aren’t Dorian’s only imperishable qualities: the voluptuary in him hasn’t changed, either.
James Biasetto’s and Ratidzo Mambo’s performances should attract talent scouts.Credit:Jack Dixon-Gunn
Now a photographer living under a pseudonym, he has lured bartender Michaela, played by Ratidzo Mambo, to his luxury apartment, intent on seduction. The sensual erotic tussle soon transforms into a more philosophical one, as Michaela reveals ulterior motives, and the truth behind Dorian’s continued existence is interrogated.
Charismatic, committed performances should attract talent scouts – under Peter Blackburn’s direction, the sex scene at the start is brilliantly charged and uncompromising – although there’s room for more delicacy and refinement in the pas de deux.
Biasetto’s malignant narcissist has a highly developed but superficial charm that bleeds into existential torment, Mambo portrays Dorian’s quarry with an alluring display of vulnerability that transforms into something predatory – a rather one-noted incarnation of righteousness, and the revenge of ethics (or worse, ‘morality’) on aesthetics.
There are many lost opportunities to engage critically with our censorious present through the prism of Wilde’s theory of aestheticism.
Emerging playwright Gabriel Bergmoser has a bright future, but his script needs work to reach its potential. Flashes of Wildean wit are few and far between, and precise expression sometimes eludes him (a “comparable analogy”, for instance, only makes sense if there are two analogies to compare).
There are many lost opportunities to engage critically with our censorious present through the prism of Wilde’s theory of aestheticism. The original novel, after all, contains a renowned defence of art for art’s sake, morality be damned, that can’t be easily trumped, as it seems to be here, by the theatrical equivalent of a deathbed conversion.
Ideas about art and life, and the dramatic contest between the two characters, should thrive off and complicate each other. And they don’t reliably do that.
Even so, the young theatre artists involved are talented, with future careers worth keeping an eye on.
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