Director Tamara Harvey on Lawrence Batley Theatre's production of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray

As Lawrence Batley Theatre’s new production of The Picture of Dorian Gray goes online next week, director Tamara Harvey speaks to Yvette Huddleston.

Fionn Whitehead in the title role of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

When we speak it is a couple of days after director Tamara Harvey has wrapped on the filming of her new digital production of The Picture of Dorian Gray and she is in a buoyant mood.

“I’m going to come dangerously close to sounding like I’m gushing but it was a wonderful experience,” she says.

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“Every single person who walked onto the set was spectacularly talented and lovely. When you are working in Covid conditions with limited time and resources, what you need from your cast is patience, kindness and humour. They are all seriously good humans.”

Joanna Lumley in the digital production.

The filming took place in and around the Barn Theatre in Cirencester, one of the project’s four co-producers along with the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, Oxford Playhouse, New Wolsey Playhouse in Ipswich and Theatr Clwyd where Harvey is artistic director.

“On the three hour drive back home to North Wales after we had finished I had the stereo on full blast and was singing at the top of my voice, I was so elated.” The production, which launches online next week, is a resonant contemporary new take on Oscar Wilde’s classic tale, placing it firmly in the 21st century as its young influencer hero makes a Faustian pact for his social media fame never to wane.

Harvey is full of praise for Henry Filloux-Bennett, artistic director of the LBT, who adapted the story, following on from his acclaimed adaptation of Jonathan Coe’s novel What A Carve Up, also directed by Harvey.

“Henry is amazing – he has the ability, which is really rare and incredibly exciting for me as a director, to somehow hold on to the heart of the original – it feels as though Oscar Wilde’s spirit is very much alive and well in what we are creating – but also to look at it through a completely different lens.”

The cast that has been assembled for the production is an impressive one.

In the title role, rising star Fionn Whitehead is joined by Joanna Lumley, Russell Tovey, Stephen Fry, Alfred Enoch and Emma McDonald.

Using elements found in radio plays, documentaries and films as well as traditional theatrical techniques, the production explores the potentially damaging effects of social media and the online world, themes which certainly feel very of the moment.

“The stories that survive are those that each new generation feels somehow as though it is speaking directly to them,” says Harvey.

“But as Henry and I were discussing different titles we were interested in, when we landed on Dorian Gray, it felt particularly, depressingly, pertinent to right now. However, it is important to say that it’s also very witty, entertaining and visually exciting.”

Harvey is looking forward to a return to live performance, “the moment we are allowed” but says that theatre makers will always find ways to tell stories, whatever the circumstances.

“Storytelling helps us make sense of our lives. As we come out of this time and begin to process it, the cathartic nature of theatre is going to become even more important – we are all going to need that collective outbreath, release and relief.”

The Picture of Dorian Gray is online, March 16-31. Tickets, £12, are available from pictureofdoriangray.com