The Shadow of Dorian Gray by Stephen Wyatt

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The Shadow of Dorian Gray by Stephen Wyatt. Dir. Abigail le Fleming. Perf. Blake Ritson, Nicholas Farrell, Joshua McGuire. BBC Radio 4, 26 May 2015. BBCiPlayer

It's 1895, and Oscar Wilde has just been convicted on charges of gross indecency following his failed libel suit. John Gray (Blake Ritson) reputedly the model for Wilde's "The Portrait of Dorian Gray," sits in the Café Royal in London with a glass of Nierstein and soda, awaiting the arrival of a mysterious person who has summoned him there by telegram ...

What happens next forces Gray to consider his entire relationship to other people as well as his sense of personal identity. Lord Henry Wotton (Nicholas Farrell) offers him the chance to escape from the fear-riddled male homosexual community in central London and live permanently abroad. André Raffalovich (Joshua McGuire) suggests retirement into the Catholic Church, where Gray will be safe from everyone and everything, even temptation. Eventually Gray makes a choice that consigns him to perpetual oblivion.

Inspired by Wilde's famous novella, "The Shadow of Dorian Gray" offers a penetrating analysis of a working-class narcissist who made his way up the social scale with a combination of native cunning and excessive beauty. John is at heart a manipulative person, even though he continually tries to justify himself through first-person narration addressed directly to the listeners. Lord Henry knows what kind of a man he is, but being a narcissist himself, he is prepared to overlook John's faults if the younger man agrees to come with him.

As he ascends the social scale and networks with more influential figures, including Wilde, so Gray becomes less and less certain of his identity. Abigail le Fleming's production includes several moments where Gray looks into a mirror and sees the image of a figure destroyed by age and the high life. There is also a reference to Alan Campbell, the young scientist brutally murdered in "The Picture of Dorian Gray." For John Gray, there is no distinction between fiction and reality; they are inextricably confused in the construction of a personal myth that eventually destroys him.

"The Shadow of Dorian Gray" could best be described as a riff on the Wilde novella, exposing the prevailing double standards of Victorian England as well as showing how young men liked to exploit their looks in pursuit of social success.