STAGE REVIEW: The Picture of Dorian Gray - at the Festival Theatre, Malvern, from Tuesday, May 6 to Saturday, May 10, 2019.

THIS is now the age of top quality screen images using hi-tech mobile phones and computers where anyone, particularly celebrities right through the list from A to Z, are considerably obsessed with their looks.

They’re concerned with superficial appearances - how they look and how others see them.

Selfies, Facebook, Twitter and so on capture and spread these modern day images, but what about in times gone by when Oscar Wilde wrote this dark classic which was poles apart from his popular comedies?

There were those, even way back then, who still felt it imperative to hold on to their looks - but at what price?

Early cameras may have been around for some time but it was in the latter part of the 19th century that they really began to develop and produce recognisable images, otherwise the only way to capture your looks was to sit for a portrait painting.

That though was the fly in the ointment for the handsome, if not beautiful, Dorian Gray!

Fortunate in one respect that he did not have to pay a huge fee for the privilege of his portrait, being an orphan taken under the wing of a renowned artist, he still paid a high price - if not the ultimate one. This was for daring to toss aside his morals through his wish that he could stay young while his portrait aged!

And so, as the portrait aged and hinted at cruelty and corruption, Gray stayed young but moved into a life that was scandalous and callous in the extreme.

The publication of Wilde’s play itself created a scandal at the time as it was felt he was attacking morality and its virtues. But hardly a hair would be raised now.

The three main actors all bring something to the table - Jonathan Wrather as Sir Henry Wotton, Gavin Fowler as Dorian, and in particular Daniel Goode in the role of the major artist, Basil Hallward.

He looked a bit of a messy painter judging by his over-the-top paint splattered overalls, but there was nothing messy about Goode’s performance which produced a most lustrous quality adding intensity and much needed energy.

Wrather’s Lord Henry was a laid-back offering, but there was style and substance, and there was passion from Gavin Fowler as doomed Dorian, although he could have made matters more terrifying.

Still, all do justice to Wilde’s wonderful use of the English language.

As Adele James was taken ill her two female roles were taken by understudies on the opening night at Malvern and this failed to help the flow of the action which, on occasions, was a steady plod. Neither of these stand-ins projected their voices fully which made it difficult for many in the audience to catch all that was said.

Phoebe Pryce is stylish as Wotton’s easy-going attractive and rich wife Lady Victoria - who leads a life apart from her husband. While Kate Dobson ensured love interest Sybil Vane earned our sympathy.

Wilde provides hints of of homosexuality as Gray, in what is the author’s version of the Faust legend, is led astray and into a world of hedonistic pleasure by the wealthy but debauched Lord Henry.

The set in this joint production from Tilted Wig, Churchill Theatre and Malvern Theatres, revealed peeling, decaying walls in a grand room and served as a multitude of places and times, but it was neither here nor there for any of them. Especially with some opulent furniture occupying centre stage.

Overall it was a production which needed a little more to crank up the atmosphere. The tale is a thriller but failed to hit top gear.

Unfortunately we never actually get to see one vital part of the set - the ‘portrait’. It’s not a painting just clear glass in a frame at first and then a ‘cobwebbed’ item that Dorian stares at with unease and a sense of foreboding.

Was it simply a case that we had all been framed?