The advance publicity for Kip Williams’s production of Oscar Wilde’s novella The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) makes much of Wilde’s aphorism ‘The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.’ In the past, Williams has found the fashionable mix of video and live performance pioneered by the Belgian director Ivo van Hove seductive. He has used it brilliantly in his production of Tennessee Williams’s Suddenly Last Summer and less so in Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. But with his assault on Wilde’s famous work, he has yielded to it with a vengeance.
Williams is right to intuit that Wilde’s story of a beautiful young man who sells his soul so that he can retain the gloss of youth while his portrait withers in his place has much to say about our image-conscious, self-obsessed times. The dying Wilde, who declared of the wallpaper in his final shabby quarters ‘one of us has to go’, would surely have appreciated the Twitter account ‘Room Rater’, and the man who declared of a widow that her hair had grown ‘quite gold with grief’ would have had some mordant comments about programs like Botched. But in the novella he is exploring more than just the desperate desire to retain the glamour of youth and the compulsion to surround oneself with beautiful objects.