We caught up with the writer of the brand new digital adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray available online this March.
Henry Filloux-Bennett is the creative mind behind the script for the brand new digital production of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel, bringing it kicking and screaming in to the 21st century for a modern day audience in this contemporary adaptation.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WANT TO BECOME A WRITER?
I came to writing a little by accident. I wrote something back in 2006 that went to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and although some people were very generous about it, I had already decided that I wanted to have very much of an administrative sort of role in theatre – so I went down the producing / marketing route.
Whilst I was at The Lowry (as Head of Marketing), they decided to create a brand new biennial festival called Week 53, and the second festival was responding to a theme of ‘coming of age’, to tie in to the building turning twenty-one. I had always loved the book ‘Toast’ by Nigel Slater, and it seemed to fit totally in to the theme, so I pitched it, and amazingly The Lowry went for it. That was in 2018 and thankfully ‘Toast’ – because of Nigel, his story, and the phenomenal show that director Jonnie Riordan created – had such a fantastic response that on the back of that I’ve been able to do a few more projects.
My ‘thing’ is definitely adaptation – there’s something about the challenge of taking a story that you (and so many others) love, and turning it in to something that can connect with a live (or online) audience – it’s tremendous fun and I love the process whenever the opportunity arises.
YOU HAVE WRITTEN THIS BRAND NEW ADAPTATION OF WILDE’S THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY – HOW DID THE CONCEPT FOR THIS RETELLING COME ABOUT?
I was lucky enough to work with the incomparable, brilliant, in all ways fantastic Tamara Harvey on What a Carve Up! last year, and on press night we were messaging each other just to stave off the nerves about what people would make of this odd not-film-not-theatre thing we’d all come together to make, and we jokingly started talking about the ‘next’ project. A week later we had our first production meeting!
We were both clear on one thing when we started talking about titles – there had to be a reason for us telling the story in a digital way. It wasn’t enough for us at least that ‘we didn’t have a real stage so let’s take it online’ – it had to make sense being online, and it had to be able to make full use of that platform. On that basis, given that so much of our lives since March 2020 (but also more widely over the last few years) have started to go further and further online, and given the complete obsession that we’ve developed as a society with influencers, selfies etc, it seemed like ‘Dorian’ was a perfect story to be exploring.
What can audiences expect from this new adaptation?
First of all, apologies for the language!
The book is fairly dark but this is definitely a 16+ kind of adaptation. We’ve gone to some of the darker corners of the internet, we’ve used all of the tools at our disposal in terms of how we portray ourselves online, and we’ve tried to bring Oscar Wilde’s amazing story kicking and screaming in to now and what we’ve all been experiencing over the last year.
Tamara and I are brilliant at describing what it’s not – it’s not a film, it’s not a play. Hopefully soon we’ll be able to give whatever it is an actual name…!
What has been the biggest challenge & most exciting part about writing this adaptation?
I think for me the biggest challenge (which was also the most exciting parts!) was the question of how you keep the beautiful language and exquisite wit of Oscar Wilde’s writing and yet have this modern social media world that you want to create. His incredible writing didn’t immediately seem to fit with the world of 'cba' and 'lol' and hashtags – so blending them together has been a lot of fun.
And then of course the team that’s working on it – it’s not every day you get to work with the company we’ve managed to assemble; it is genuinely a complete joy to see everyone pulling together to keep on creating work.
How do the themes explored in Wilde’s original story translate in to this new, modern version?
I hope we’ve tried to keep the essence of the original story throughout. At the centre of it is that deal that gets made, and although we’ve flipped that bargain to recognise the fact that for the first time in the history of the world young people’s primary contact is now digital, at the heart of the story is still that question that Dorian has to answer.
We’ve also tried to look at the mental health aspect of isolation and loneliness, and the impact of trolling, because for all the wonderful opportunities the internet gives us, there is certainly a far darker side, and we thought it was important to explore these.
What message would you like this production to leave audiences with?
I hope that people enjoy the thing we’ve created, of course, but mainly I hope that the audience leaves appreciating just how much work and collaboration has gone in to putting ‘Dorian’ together; from our amazing twenty plus co-producers and partner venues to everyone who has worked on making it and getting it out to the audience, to the incredible cast – it has been such a massive and ambitious undertaking, and I hope people will see that if you support regional theatre, this is what we can do when we work together.
Age guidance 16+
Content warning: The Picture of Dorian Gray includes extremely strong language and contains scenes of self-harm, suicide, death and mental illness which some viewers may find upsetting.