Having decided to bring the piece to the present day, the two men had to choose an appropriate milieu for Dorian. They finally settled on the world of arty, upscale photography. [Production Designer and long-time Bourne collaborator Lez] Brotherston's plan for the set is an ingenious revolve that can turn the production on a sixpence between loft apartment, studio, club and even the Royal Opera House. Dorian's beauty becomes immortalised through an ad campaign, rather than through a painted portrait, as in Wilde's novel. "We were trying to think how a person would become the talk of the town today, and it had to be through an image that you see everywhere. So Basil [the portrait-painter in Wilde] is going to be an iconic photographer, someone like Annie Leibovitz, and Dorian is going to become the face of a new perfume, like in a Calvin Klein ad."
Bourne and Brotherston have also been thinking hard about the characters' sexuality. Bourne feels there is an obvious gay subtext to Wilde's story that has to be made explicit, but he also believes the women Wilde portrayed are too silly to be credible for today's audience - especially Dorian's love interest, the actress Sibyl Vane. "It seems misogynistic to me," he says, "to have such weak women, and it doesn't make sense in a contemporary setting." Both issues have been dealt with by a neat gender switch. "My first revelation was to turn Lord Henry [the cynical hedonist who initiates Dorian's corruption] into a woman, probably into one of those very strong female editors in the magazine world. Then I thought of having Sibyl become Cyril, a male ballet dancer. In the novel, when Dorian falls in love with an actress, it comes from nowhere, given that he's been in this bitchy triangle with Lord Henry and Basil. It makes much more sense to have Sybil as a man."
Dorian Gray previews at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, Aug 14-16, then premieres at the Edinburgh International Festival, Aug 22-30; it tours to Sadler’s Wells, EC1, Sept 2-14; Theatre Royal Norwich, Sept 16-20; and Theatre Royal Newcastle, Sept 23-27
Dorian Gray microsite at New Adventures