Oscar Wilde, Lord Alfred Douglas, the love that dare not speak its name… what better subjects for a new play? However, this superb masterpiece goes so much further than re-telling a well-known story of homosexuality in a time when expressing your true feelings was intensely dangerous. C.J. Wilmann’s impressive play takes us on a journey through the frustrations, desires and sacrifices of John Gray, the man who supposedly inspired Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray.’
As a lover of all things Wildean, I was already excited about this play. But it wildly surpassed my expectations and I cannot recommend this play enough. In an intimate space where there is no hiding from an audience sat just inches away from the stage, the five actors performed with polish, integrity and exceptional talent. I am sure we will be seeing their names go far in the near future. Oliver Allan and Jordan McCurrach open the play in the art studio of Charles Ricketts (Allan) and we are immediately delighted by the world they create for us. Art, wine, poetry: we are seduced by the pleasures of their world but quickly warned about the dangers.
Patrick Walshe McBride as John Gray is excellent and his developments as a character are utterly convincing. He is young, desperate to fit into the artistic and glamorous homosexual circles of Wilde and Lord Douglas; McBride performs this excitement with an appealing naivety. His progression and maturity is remarkable and we experience his painful and emotive decisions sincerely. Christopher Tester as Andre Raffalovich, Gray’s literary patron, wine-adviser and lover, is an outstanding actor who commands the stage with utter focus and integrity. Tom Cox as the extravagant Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas) is also brilliant and we are charmed by his manner.
While the intensity and professionalism of the actors make this a great play, more praise must go to the writer, Craig Wilmann. As a relatively young playwright, ‘The Picture of John Gray’ is an outstanding achievement and I will be waiting with anticipation for his next play. He wrote his dissertation at The University of Nottingham on the famous and controversial preface to Wilde’s second publication of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and infused within the lines of the play are a detailed questioning of the context in which the preface was written and Wilde’s aesthetic ideals so integral to the Art for Art’s sake movement. However, this play also breaks away from these literary concerns and shows us the real anguish, compromises and sacrifices that living as a homosexual at the end of the 19th century must have demanded. Skilfully directed by Gus Miller and brilliantly acted by five impressive young men, this is a must-see performance.