SUDS’ Picture of Dorian Gray: An Inside Look

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Poster for SUDS' Picture of Dorian Gray, featuring Abby Ferguson as Dorian.

This week in the Macroberts Arts Centre, Stirling University’s Drama Society will be taking the stage once more. We gathered some cast and crew from The Picture of Dorian Gray a couple of weeks ago to talk about their adaption, Oscar Wilde’s classic, and some of their favourite parts.

Abby Ferguson, president of the society, is playing the titular role of Dorian. But why the gender-change?

“Sexuality and gender play a lot into the themes of the play so that’s obviously got to be given due consideration. And a lot of the roles are switched to reflect that, making Dorian female having a sort of knock-on effect. Dorian is quite a sexual character and has that inner battle with themselves over that. So I guess it’s interesting to see that through the eyes of a woman.”

After many years of being in SUDS, Abby also spoke about her excitement in her last performance:

“It’ll roughly be about 3 years since my last SUDS show. I get to perform on the mainstage for the first time, which if I didn’t I’d be ragin’. I think that’s gonna be really fun, and a totally different experience for me. I’ve been backstage for Gatsby, backstage for A View For The Bridge, so finally getting to be on the stage… it’s gonna seem so different.”

“There are lots of LGBT themes throughout it, and we’re trying to push that more than Oscar Wilde was obviously able to do so at the time. “

Claude Edwards, director of The Picture of Dorian Gray

The director of the play Claude Edwards also spoke with Air3 about what drew her to Dorian Gray, and how she’s going to shift and change some themes of the original text:

“We’ve done a lot of American stuff quite recently, and I thought going down a more English route would be interesting. I thought the themes of narcissism were really interesting, and I liked the gothic vibe of it. There are lots of LGBT themes throughout it, and we’re trying to push that more than Oscar Wilde was obviously able to do so at the time. We’re trying to find a balance to be true to Dorian Gray, while also keeping a feminine aspect as well.”

Also joining the conversation was Ross Batey, playing the character of Lord Henry. I asked him about the role, and what it’s like playing a villain:

“He’s a typical Oscar Wilde character, very posh, very full of himself, but he’s quite funny. He’s got some good one-liners, but he doesn’t really care about anyone other than himself. He’s quite a driving force in Dorian’s downfall, and influential to Dorian as a whole.

“I don’t know if he’s a villain. I think it plays with the good and bad a lot, but with Henry, there’s not much good in him. He’s very fun to play, so far anyway.”

A theme that Ferguson and Batey share is the shift from the roles of director and producer in The Great Gatsby to focusing on acting. How did that change feel?

A.F: It’s great to watch more people take on the role for the first time. I know it’s the first time Claude and Rowan have been producing and directing so it’s cool seeing others bring what their vision is to it because everyone has a very different style.

R.B: I just concentrate on myself a lot more. There are a lot less people to let down. It’s very different – the producer’s there to help the director and both have input on how the show’s going, but when you’re an actor you’re more focused on yourself rather than how the overall show’s going to be. You don’t wanna be gettin’ wide, or stepping on anyone’s toes.

A.F: There’s been a lot of people in the cast who have directed but not actually really been in plays or shared scenes with me, so it’s cool to see people I’ve admired from the other side of the table and actually getting to be on stage with them. 

As Abby Ferguson mentioned before, the mainstage (MacRoberts’ biggest stage) has been quite daunting since SUDS first performed on it for The Great Gatsby in 2019. I asked producer Rowen Rennie if he was feeling the heat:

“My first SUDS show was the first one on the mainstage, and I remember there was a lot of fear about how to fill this big stage. But really, it was alright! It’s a medium amount of set: we’re not bare-staging it, but we’re also not building a whole bunch of things.”

“You can see a film if it’s on the TV, you can hear a song on the radio, but with theatre, there has to be a level of trust. “

Abby Ferguson, Dorian Gray

So confidence is high, but why should people buy a ticket?

Ferguson: “There’s something weird with theatre that you can’t encounter it accidentally. You can see a film if it’s on the TV, you can hear a song on the radio, but with theatre, there has to be a level of trust. You go in, you sit down, you’ve bought a ticket, you’re there for the next hour/half-hour. And I think people should just give it a chance.

We don’t have a massive budget, we’re not professional actors, not professional directors, not professional producers. And there’s something a little bit more magic about that. You get to see a new level of creativity, how people have to be more resourceful and to completely think on their feet.”

Batey: “It’s gonna be a really good time. That’s what I’d say to anyone thinking about coming to see it. Plus, you can go and tell people you went to see a play. And then you’ll sound a little f**kin’ smarter. This is being typed up, right? So I can swear, you can just take that out?”

Finally, I asked if anyone had a favourite line from the play. Batey replied instantly, saying his favourite one of Lord Henry’s lines was “to ruin oneself through poverty is an honour”. After the others informed him that it was in fact ‘poetry’ and not ‘poverty’, and he had been reading it wrong for weeks, he looked quite dejected.

The Picture of Dorian Gray will be playing on Tuesday 18th and Wednesday 19th of February at 7pm, and you can buy tickets here:

Written and interviewed by Harry Mitchell

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