Imagine That Theatre Company present The Picture of Dorian Gray in the style of the Mischief Theatre Company presenting The Play That Goes Wrong. It’s the age-old story of the picture in the attic that gets witheringly older whilst the dashing Dorian remains his old handsome self. I too am practising this art; sadly, both me and my portrait are ageing visibly so something’s going wrong. Not as much that goes wrong with the Imagine That Theatre Company’s version, of course.
Unlike every other production in the Flash Festival, with the possible exception of The Time Travel Tour, this is the only one that has no pretence to anything serious whatsoever. No sirree. This is played purely for laughs, which is much harder than it looks. Frequently humour emerges organically out of serious subject matter. But to make your audience laugh at what is almost exclusively slapstick or the ridiculous is a tough call, and to write the perfect slapstick vehicle for these five talented actors would probably take ten times as much effort and time than they probably had all year. So, inevitably the play was a little patchy, with some sequences that were genuinely hilarious and some that were borderline tiresome.
So I’m going to dwell on all the good things! The largely improvised (at least I think it was) opening scene with Lewis Hodson and Lee Hancock as Roger and Colin looking for each other was absolutely brilliant. Mr Hodson has a wonderful po-faced expression that can take on so many different meanings with just a twitch of an eyebrow – a real gift that he used to excellent advantage. How can just idly repositioning the flats and then accidentally screaming at the unexpected sight of an audience be so funny? He makes it so. Lee Hancock too, listens out for a tiny giggle from the audience and then bounds over to them with the biggest intimidating glare to stop them from laughing – so they laugh more, much to his growing fury. Messrs Hodson and Hancock aimlessly chased each other all round the set for ages – probably about ten minutes; totally pointless, absolutely hysterical.
Other good things: I really enjoyed the overall performance of Lauren Scott as she flipped from being the stern Dorian Gray (think Gabrielle Glaister as Bob in Blackadder II) to being herself (or at least the actor playing herself playing Gray. I think.) She was all roister-doister one minute and girly-pearly the next; very nicely done. I also liked the on-off relationship between her and narrator/boss Hans Oldham (or the actor playing Hans Oldham… you get the picture) – including a very nice moment when he’d pushed his luck too far and she wasn’t having any of it. I enjoyed Ben Barton’s performance as the easily hurt and not-very-good stand-in actor from the Local Actor’s Society; his splendidly vacant expression smeared with half-on/half-off lipstick is the stuff of nightmares.
The performance was clearly inspired by the group’s visit to The Play That Goes Wrong, and maybe the whole thing lost a little originality as a consequence. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of content in here – comedy idea after comedy idea meant there was possibly too much; the phrase less is more occasionally came into my mind. There was one repeated gag that really got on my nerves, and the whole thing could have done with a punchier ending. However, there’s no doubting it was very funny, the very likeable cast worked their socks off to please us and it was met with virtually maniacal laughter from the audience. This was a hard job but they did it well, and you can’t look back on it without a big smile on your face.