For my first review since The Theatre Reviewer's hiatus, I shall examine Dorian: A Rock Musical, plunging first into aesthetics.
It is clear that this production had a good budget or, at least, access to good resources, as both set and costume (Belle Mundi) are, on the whole, well designed, sleek and well presented. However, all together, the aesthetic is simply disharmonious and illogical, particularly when it comes to costume: there is a complete lack of sense of time period, and designs are fraught with historical inaccuracies. But I must say, I am afraid that this is as good as it gets…
Written and directed by Linnie Reedman, this musical’s dramatic text is most definitely underwhelming. It is easy to feel as though one has been cheated of one’s time watching this performance, and this is mostly due to the sheer lack of detail and specificity in the text. One is left with a huge amount of unanswered questions. We learn hardly anything about Dorian (Bart Lambert), why the other characters are so obsessed with him, and we see no indication that being locked away for his entire life has had any impact on his ability to socialise, on his levels of anxiety or agoraphobia, for instance, making for a most unconvincing and unrealistic character type. We learn hardly anything of the theatre the characters frequent or of the sort of people the characters are, beyond their interest in clubbing and paintings — two very different interests, again leaning into that unstable aesthetic, inspiring the visuals of romantic masterpieces and dingy modern nightclubs. In fact, whatever we do learn about the characters is only through basic disposition (which is also somewhat illegible, given the lack of transformativity amongst the cast) and from what other characters say about them, not through the characters themselves. Indeed, the writing seems to provide us with nothing but a skeletal plot, with development of story and character being overly crude and blatant.
The main reason for this, really, is an overuse of song (music and lyrics by Joe Evans). The songs in this musical, very catchy though they are, depend on over-literariness, flamboyant bombast and melodramatic feeling, attempting to deal with deep, mournful and existential themes, such as love, sin and youth, but to the detriment of psychological realism, naturalism and credibility. The songs are simply far too abundant, eating into the time that should be spent allowing us to get to know the characters. What should be momentary ponderings or interactions between characters to progress the story along become lengthy, heartfelt ballads, as is the case with Lady Henry (Johanna Stanton), for instance, when she sings about her husband’s (John Addison) lack of compassion and mutuality. Lady Henry really need not have so much time allotted to her, being a rather negligible character in this story, and this song, like many others, unnecessarily draws out what could be a mere few seconds of stage-time. The problem is that the songs do not teach us anything profound about the characters, their psychologies or their contexts; they are simply meaningless pseudophilosophical attempts to excavate and examine elements of the human experience — which is just as high-flown as it sounds.
Having written all of that, however, the music remains very lively and catchy, but there are few motifs or particularities throughout to give the overall catalogue a sense of identity and uniqueness. There also seems to be a confusion of rock and tango… The lyrics, unnecessarily bombastic though they are, do remain thought-provoking and romantic, however, but I just wish more attention had been given to the vocals –– that is their volume and their marriage with the instrumentals, as the two sound far too obviously distinct, having been recorded separately and badly combined together.
I mentioned that transformativity was lacking amongst the cast members, and this was the musical’s absolute downfall. Especially during songs, movements are unnaturally brusque and ill-conceived, with characters performing actions with no obvious [or natural] motivation or need (movement direction by Anthony Whiteman) — a good example of this being in the opening scene wherein we see Dorian needlessly picking up various items scattered around Margaret’s dresser: a glove, a pencil, Margaret’s portrait… Lambert simply lifts the item, looks at it, and puts it back down –– pointless. The term Chekhov's gun comes to mind! Direction is incredibly poor when it comes to character intent. On top of this, there is a huge lack of naturalism in general, with actors’ intonation and delivery failing to replicate the patterns of natural speech. Either there is a complete lack of emotionality, passion and conviction, or it is simply melodramatic, as with Sophie Jugé (playing Mrs Leaf) and her out-of-nowhere histrionics for her [inaudible] song during Dorian’s death scene, now resembling an opera performer after hitherto performing completely plainly — a very good example of what I meant when I wrote about the poor and failing marriage of vocals and instrumentals in this performance; Jugé is practically on mute during the entire song! Then, there’s the odd inclusion of the ensemble who make rare appearances and add absolutely nothing to scenes but peculiarity. Why? Just to make the scenes look busier, more interesting? A terrible conception. However, I should note here the shining star and redeeming hope for the profession of acting in this performance: Addison. A wonderfully credible and compelling performer of which others in this performance should take note. Another adequate performer was his onstage counterpart, Stanton, but even she faltered towards the end, for me. A shockingly poor cast, I, unfortunately, have to note. At least, Lambert garnered the strength to perform with a degree of conviction during his scene with Lewis Rae, but perhaps too late…
Overall, I really fail to see why this performance was so long and what the writer-director assumed they would achieve in its creation. This is a very underdeveloped, lacklustre and, I must say, boring performance. From illogical costuming to large and vacuous sets to overly harsh lighting and mediocre performativity, this performance was simply negligible. Usually, I do not comment upon cinematography for recorded performances, but I must mention that the terrible compositions and camera angles definitely lean into this performance’s sheer lack of professionalism and order. Terrible framing and blocking often mean that characters are completely obscured and one cannot even see what is going on in a given scene… With a final remark that everything I have written relates to the performance's entirety, I have nothing left to write…and so I end this review.