A Review of Immersive Picture of Dorian Gray

“I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvelous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if only one hides it.” – The Picture of Dorian Gray

Have you ever wanted to step into the world of your favourite stories? To interact with the characters and see the stories more fleshed out once the main character leaves the room? Immersive Picture of Dorian Gray aims to fulfill these desires and more. The show, put on by Midnight Circle Productions, is “an immersive adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray”. 

For those unfamiliar with the story, The Picture of Dorian Gray, written by Oscar Wilde in the 1890s, tells the story of a young man whose friend makes him a portrait. Gray makes a deal and sells his soul so that the picture will grow old and grey while Gray himself will remain forever young. Even though some changes are made in this production, I would highly recommend that audience members at least do a quick read on the summary of the book in order to understand the general plot points and motives of characters. The show takes place in St. Peter’s Church Crypt, with several “rooms” creating locations like a theatre, an art studio, a dining room, and a dressing room, with a bar in the center connecting all of the different places. Being in the crypts reminded me of being back in The Vaults with a damp chill in the air and a particular smell that had been sorely missed. 

As someone who loves immersive theatre, Oscar Wilde, and shows that take place in venues like crypts, I was very excited to see Immersive Picture of Dorian Gray. Nicholas Benjamin, the director, made the fascinating choice of allowing the actors within the show to come up with the scenes themselves, giving them his concepts and allowing them to create interactions between their characters and the world based on character development. Benjamin also takes on the role of Mister B, a bartender who is also seemingly some form of unwordly being, quite possibly the Devil himself (or maybe Beelzebub?). Mister B is a charming host, typically blending into the background of the show and letting the other characters take precedence, while at other times speaking directly to the audience and making them choose different paths within the story.

Piers Mackenzie plays the titular role of Dorian Gray, doing a brilliant job of going from a sweet and innocent young boy to the horrifying and violent man without aging a day. He reminded me of a young Andrew Scott with the ability to transform as the plot demands, drawing in the audience with his speechless love for actress Sybil Vane in one scene and his screaming fury at Henry Wotton in another. Richard Watkins does a beautiful job of portraying Basil Hallward, the artist who creates the painting of Gray and has a deep love for the man, one that is romantic in this production. He is the sense of right in the show, attempting to guide Gray as he arrives in the city of London. Henry Wotton, on the other hand, played by Harry Harding, is the devil on Gray’s shoulder, instilling sinful thoughts in the young man’s mind, encouraging him to become obsessed with chasing beauty and enjoying his own good looks while they last. Gray’s female love interest, an actress named Sybil Vane, is well-potrayed by Niamh Handley-Vaughan, who, without getting into many spoilers, does a similarly great job to Mackenzie in portraying both innocence and vengeance.

More minor characters in the show, James Vane (Miles Blanch), Victoria Wotton (Nadia Lamin), and Alan Campbell (Michael McGarry) all have roles that are more fleshed out than those in the actual novel, but these stories can be difficult to follow if one chooses to focus on the main character of Gray. Letters found scattered throughout the set reveal more details about all of these characters, with some notes even being given to audience members to give to other characters. 

I personally chose to follow Gray throughout the night, which meant that I missed out on several other scenes that occurred in other rooms that focused on characters like Campbell and the Vane siblings. Sometimes, because of the lack of distance between rooms, I was able to hear snippets of other scenes happening simultaneously, which grew disorienting when one would overpower another. A bell at the bar woul be rung to signify moments of what could be interpreted as major plot points, typically taking place in the theatre. 

In looking at aspects that could be improved for future productions, I would have liked some more interaction between the audience and the characters, especially one-on-one situations, which would work for a range of situations in the crypt. There were times that actors made eye contact with audience members and I thought it would go further, but instead they would quickly break eye contact and move the scene along. Serving alcohol throughout the show may not be the best idea as there were some audience members who had a bit too much to drink and were treating the production as more of something to laugh at and comment on, even in the quieter moments.

Ultimately, Immersive Picture of Dorian Gray is an interesting adaptation of the Wilde novel and takes immersive theatre in a new direction. Benjamin’s choice to allow the actors to expand on their characters, including those who might only appear in a scene or two in the novel, giving audiences the chance to learn more about their motives and what they might be doing while Gray is off partying. I look forward to seeing more shows from Midnight Circle Productions in the future!

Immersive Picture of Dorian Gray runs from 19 to 29 April at St. Peter’s Bethnal Green. The show runs approximately 1 hour and 25 minutes with no interval. The venue is not wheelchair accessible. Tickets can be purchased here.


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