Style: Promenade-style interactive storytelling
Where: St Peter’s Bethnal Green, Saint Peter’s Close London E2 7AE
Rating: 4 stars
There are many different approaches to immersive theatre – all of which have their own gains for audiences. With Dorian Gray, the drama cleverly blends the audience interactivity with the more “on rails” experience of a promenade show. Thus, while the audience doesn’t lead the story or have an impact on its dramatic points and outcomes, they are fully drawn into the world and feel a personal stake in it.
The story is fairly well known and pretty simple. A man is offered a chance to retain his youth and beauty forever and he takes this deal with the devil gladly. Who wouldn’t?
But this has a lasting and devastating impact on his own dissolution as a person and his behaviour with increasingly tragic consequences for those around him. He leans in to the friends who lead hin down a darker path and rejects those whose search for – and celebration of – beauty goes beyond the superficial.
The action here flows well. The audience direct their own journey to enough of an extent to feel they have some agency and there are amusing and well played interactions with the characters that give you the real sense of who they are and a buy in to their actions and the motivations behind them.
There are choices to be made, and as such, you will – as in so much immersive theatre – never experience the whole piece. You will see different parts of different storylines. But these were woven together skillfully enough to ensure that this was never jarring and you had enough sense of the movement of the whole even as you only experienced pieces.
Before the show, I discussed with my companion for the night the lack of what we might consider real, actual debauchery in the original text (this may say more about my companion and myself than Oscar Wilde, or perhaps more about what is acceptable in modern times). Given this, Dorian’s descent from innocent to corrupted and corruptor was well signified and the journey was properly satisfying – even if the actual act of smoking a cigarette or – indeed – doing a line or two – may feel less depraved.
Overall, Immersive Dorian Gray was a piece that was thoughtful, satisfying and a lot of fun. It kept the audience both engaged and involved without changing the key elements of a story that we all know a little but a little less than we perhaps think we do.