This adaptation focused on the destructive power of the imagination, which can not only create limitless possibilities, but can cause grief. This was Dorian Gray’s (Jamie Glover’s) main weakness: conscious of his natural beauty as well as his powers of persuasion, he regarded himself as a Nietzschean übermensch, to whom everyone – irrespective of class or gender – had to pay court. He delivered his lines in a nasal whine that became more and more pronounced as he fell deeper into the pit of sin. Director Gordon House clearly saw Dorian as responsible for his own demise; in the end the young man assumed that everything would be restored to normal once the portrait had been destroyed. But fate dealt him a cruel blow, as he died a horrible death while the portrait depicted him as he once was – a beautiful innocent-looking youth.
House also suggested that Henry Wotton (Ian McDiarmid) and Basil Hallward (Steven Pacey) contributed significantly to Dorian’s downfall. Wotton was full of his own self-importance; in many ways he was as narcissistic as Dorian, totally lacking in any sense of decency. He spoke throughout in supercilious tones, revelling in his ability to end every conversational exchange with a witty epigram. His treatment of Dorian was callous in the extreme: he sniggered quietly as he gave Dorian a book calling for a life based purely on sensation, knowing full well that Dorian would destroy himself after having read it. When Sibyl Vane (-----) committed suicide, Wotton laughed the event off with another contemptuous sneer, advising Dorian to forget his woes and go to the opera instead. Wotton showed little or no remorse for his behaviour – even at the end, when Dorian had passed away, Wotton boasted that he had at last come into possession of the painting, which now adorned one of the walls in his mansion, a perpetual reminder of a very “interesting” man.
Hallward was much the weakest of the three protagonists; in Pacey’s performance he came across as a frustrated artist who never achieved his life’s dreams. His obsession with Dorian – expressed through a series of breathless statements, as if unable to control his emotions – proved so destructive that it eventually turned the young man’s mind. Dorian could not, or would not, consort with someone who harboured such strong feelings for him; he either despised them or forced them to commit suicide. Hallward’s death-scene was particularly gruesome, as we heard him gasping for breath as Dorian strangled him.
Basically a three-character melodrama, this version of Dorian Gray had a frightening sense of inevitability about it – especially when Dorian had driven Sibyl to suicide. One death lead to another, and another, while the young man’s portrait became more and more corrupted. This sense of inevitability was underlined by repeated snatches of music played on piano and violin, resembling a funeral dirge.
The action unfolded in a series of short scenes, interlinked with narration from the three main characters. This made for riveting, if frequently uncomfortable listening.