THE CONFESSIONS OF DORIAN GRAY: SERIES THREE

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AUDIO REVIEW: THE CONFESSIONS OF DORIAN GRAY – SERIES THREE / DIRECTED BY: SCOTT HANDCOCK / AUTHORS: SCOTT HANDCOCK, JAMES GOSS, DAVID LLEWELLYN, ROY GILL, GARY RUSSELL, XANNA EVE CHOWN, CAVAN SCOTT / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: ALEXANDER VLAHOS, TRACEY CHILDS, HUGH SKINNER, BERNARD HOLLEY, MILES RICHARDSON / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER (EXACT DATE TBC)

The first two series of Scott Handcock’s Oscar Wilde revision flitted first forwards and then backwards through time, slotting short single-narrator stories into the century or so since Wilde first published his seminal solo novel. With Series Three, Handcock and his lead actor Alexander Vlahos have changed things up – and it’s a refreshing new approach. Indeed, this third set of eight stories works as a jumping-on point for the adaptation, and you can almost imagine the series beginning as the novel itself ends.

Eschewing the epigrammatic nature of Wilde’s original, The Confessions of Dorian Gray is instead an anthological series of half-hour stories, each dealing with the supernatural in a manner that makes Dorian an at-first unwitting investigator of the weird and unexplained. Characters from the first two series reappear, albeit in a way that isn’t off-putting to new listeners; and remaining true to the source novel, Dorian himself is only an intermittently sympathetic protagonist. Eventually, as the eight plays progress, the threads that tie them together begin to establish themselves, leading to an elliptical conclusion that is both a revelation and yet entirely consistent with the premise.

And that’s the delight of Handcock’s revision. Rather than simply inserting Dorian Gray into a succession of relevant but unrelated plots, Handcock and his team of writers have quite deliberately adapted myths and circumstances to make them pertinent to the character and his situation. Roy Gill’s third instalment We Are Everywhere, for example, places Dorian at the hands of a serial killer who can now practise his art on a man who always returns to life, and therefore who will never involve the authorities. The eight plays combine an ingeniousness of plot and of resolution, making the entire experience surprising and rewarding in equal measure.

The central cast is superb, with Hugh Skinner and Miles Richardson particularly appealing, each bringing out a different aspect of Dorian in the final episode; Vlahos himself is fantastically debauched as the eponymous character, giving real resonance to a highly troubled individual. But it’s Tracey Childs as Victoria Lowell who steals the show, an arch presence who becomes increasingly important as the story unfolds. There is also an excellent roster of performers who inhabit the individual instalments, including Big Finish stalwarts like Nicola Bryant and Terry Molloy, and Annette Badland has a lot of fun as an out of her depth spiritualist. Bernard Holley makes for a rich, Richard Burton-esque villain at the beginning of the series.

The Confessions of Dorian Gray is a gruesome selection of rather grisly stories, which takes Oscar Wilde’s personality study and evolves it into a genre patchwork that should appeal to anyone who enjoys ghost stories or tales of the macabre. It’s a lot of fun, but it is also rather more thoughtful and even occasionally profound than might be expected. A tremendous collection, for seasoned followers and new listeners alike.

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