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Eternal guilt: Dorian The Musical @SWKplay

Dorian is a new musical that updates Oscar Wilde’s gothic novel from the uptight Victorian era to an undetermined period of gender fluidity and glam rock. On paper, musicalising the Picture of Dorian Gray to a period of glam rock, social media, and cheap shoes seems like a good idea. After all, Oscar Wilde’s gothic story is very adaptable. It has been the source of countless adaptations for the stage, television or movies. I was half expecting a trashy Dorian, similar to the early 1980s telemovie that shifted Dorian’s gender to a woman. This version falls into a so bad it’s good category with Anthony Perkins in a lead role, who as he ages under makeup starts to look like Andy Warhol.  And while it’s great to see a new show, a strong cast can’t compensate for such an earnest production with underpowered songs. There’s no sense of fun, and some curious staging and costume choices  -mismatched dresses, crocodile boots and furry suits - serve as a distraction. It’s currently playing at th

Wannabes in the woods: The Retreat @Finborough

The Retreat takes us back to the Canada of the mid-nineteen nineties—the clothes, the politics, both geopolitical and sexual. But even though it's long before the #metoo era, it has plenty to say about power, business and the lure of showbiz. Jason Sherman's funny script and engaging performances make this piece too good to miss. It's currently having its European premiere at the Finborough Theatre.

The play opens with Rachel (Jill Winternitz) not apologising to her boss for equating Jewish settlers on the West Bank as terrorists. As a teacher at a Hebrew school whose pupils have relatives living in the West Bank, this wouldn't go down well. But Rachel has other things on her mind. She has written a screenplay and been invited to what she thinks is a prestigious retreat for aspiring screenwriters. And her father, who fought for Israel, is dying in a hospice. The apology can wait. Perhaps forever.

Meanwhile, David (Max Rinehart) and Jeff (Michael Feldsher), two film producers, are arguing over their next film project. David is after something more artistic for their next project, while Jeff is keen to keep the business going. David thinks he may have a future project with Rachel's heavy-handed script about a false messiah. And so he will work with her to refine it at the "retreat" he is hosting in the woods outside of Toronto. 

While it comes as no surprise that David and Rachel will have more than just a week away in the woods working on a heavy-handed script. The story unfolds in several surprising ways while capturing life in Canada, Jewishness, sex, art and how to scare away elk at night. There is a reference early in the piece that there are three types of stories: faith, love, and redemption. Somehow they are woven into the story of the four characters, giving us insight into who they are and what motivates them.

It's probably part of the inspired casting that makes it easy to forgive the characters you see on stage. The intimate space of the Finborough brings the action up close to you and makes the more intimate scenes of the piece seem more intense that you're holding your breath, wondering what will happen next. The chemistry between Rinehart and Winternitz as they flirt and fight also makes for an entertaining and remarkable battle. 

Usually, Finborough plays are often ninety minutes straight through, but this piece at almost double that length seems to fly by. Alys Whitehead's simple yet evocative set and Ben Jacobs's lighting capture the mood and place well. Projections by Cheng Keng underscore the frustration of Rachel as a struggling wannabe writer. A memorable production on many levels. Definitely not to miss. 

Directed by Emma Jude Harris, The Retreat is playing at the Finborough Theatre until 13 May.


Photos by Ali Wright

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