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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

Outrageous Sustenance: The Return of Benjamin Lay @Finborough

The Finborough Theatre has its windows open to the world outside in The Return of Benjamin Lay. The evening sunlight fills the theatre space, and a giant tree outside the building gives you peace and tranquillity. It's as if you almost forget you are in a theatre just off the A3320 - a road known for pollution, noise and traffic congestion. Yet, recreating a Quaker meeting room for the piece also provokes the audience to reflect on how the life and times of a slavery abolitionist from the 1700s has something to say about our current times of modern slavery, prejudice and ignorance. It's currently having its world premiere at the Finborough Theatre. 

Benjamin Lay was a revolutionary slavery abolitionist who lived in the 1700s. Having witnessed first-hand the atrocities of slavery in Barbados, he campaigned against it vigorously, including kidnapping a child of enslavers so they could see how it felt. For a man ahead of his time, the Quaker community disowned him. This monologue imagines him returning to a Quaker community, recounting his life and explaining his actions. But as he begs to re-enter the society that abandoned him, he realises that his quest is different and more radical. There's a moment when he recounts that his wife tells him his anger is good-hearted but not sustenance. It feels that the piece plays between the tension of outrage and idealism throughout the ages. And for anyone told down to dial down their enthusiasm (or outrage), here’s a piece to suggest perhaps you should be dialling it up. 

The piece by Naomi Wallace and Marcus Rediker is a part history lesson and a call to action. In the title role, Mark Povinelli creates the time and place with an energetic and evocative recounting of his times and the various characters in his life. He bounds across the stage and engages with the audience. The audience participation isn't always successful and probably depends on the books they read. Thankfully I wasn't asked to confirm I was reading William Goldman's "The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway" as that would have killed the mood. However, it's a thrilling theatrical event in any case. 

Directed by Ron Daniels, the Return of Benjamin Lay is at the Finborough Theatre until 8 July. 


Photos by Robert Boulton 

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