Why I adapted Dorian Gray


A much-anticipated new adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel is about to open at Kentish Town’s Lion & Unicorn theatre. Writer Adam Dechanel explains why he’s so drawn to it



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The cast, including Michael Batten (Dorian Gray, centre bottom) joke about in a pre-rehearsal shot. Photo: PR
After the success of our Christmas production of the Jungle Book, the Lion & Unicorn theatre on NW5’s leafy Gaisford Street asked us to launch its first ever trilogy. And a plethora of classics were juggled around until we decided on Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and Jekyll & Hyde, all of which lent themselves to a similar gothic feel.

First off is Dorian. Not familiar with the story? Well, Gray is an innocent soul who arrives fresh on the London social scene and is quickly swooped under the wing of Lord Henry Wotton.

The portrait of Dorian Gray as featured in the show
Dreamy: is the portrait of Dorian Gray central to the new production?

The older man takes advantage of his handsome young protegé’s naiveté, and leads Dorian to explore the pleasures of London’s seedier side, where nothing is off limits and exploring deviance is encouraged.

Slipping deeper into a world of sex, sin and criminality, Dorian’s deeds grow ever more evil in an attempt to hide a secret that keeps him forever young while those around him wither with age…

And of course most of you will know what happens after that. But Oscar Wilde’s original 1890 novel boasts so many layers it means a multitude of things to different audiences. As long as religion, culture, reputation and social acceptability restrict us, temptation will always exist; and this classic novel will live on. I’d argue that it’s as relevant today as it was in the late 19th century.

In my adaptation, entitled The Corruption of Dorian Gray, I also try to explore the themes of seduction, experimentation and personal growth. This isn’t, of course, just about sexual identity, although I haven’t shied away from the novel’s lesbian, gay, heterosexual and bisexual roots. I want theatregoers to experience everything with Dorian: his guilt, shame, ecstasy, fears, even his mental health issues.

Enticing? The poster for the show
Theatrical poster for the production

So I hope you’ll be able to connect with one of literature’s great anti-heroes on a personal level, and see why he becomes what he does, rather than read about how it happens. Literary fans will perhaps even be thrilled by a few nods to the 19th-century literary magazine Lippincott, which Wilde wrote it for, and details of his real life, all an affectionate nod from someone who’s a huge fan of his work.

But if it’s a direct adaptation you’re after, you may, I’m afraid, be in for a shock. I chose the title specifically – rather than keeping Wilde’s original, The Portrait of Dorian Gray – and yet can’t reveal more without spoiling it.

This is box title
The Corruption of Dorian Gray runs from 10th June – 12th July (Tues – Sat 7.30pm, Sat matinee 3.30pm) at Lion & Unicorn Theatre, 42 Gaisford Street NW5. Tickets (£19/£15 concession) from here

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  • William Saunders

    Saw this production on Saturday and it was breathtaking. Beautifully staged, great performances, couldn’t recommend it highly enough…