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Matthew d’Ancona’s Culture: The Picture of Dorian Gray is unmissable

Our editor-at-large’s rundown of the pick of the week’s film, TV and art

Image: Theatre Royal Haymarket


Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, until May 11

It is a measure of Sarah Snook’s acting virtuosity that, moments after her appearance on the stage, one has completely forgotten about her iconic performance as Shiv Roy in Succession. Returning to the West End for the first time since her run in Ibsen’s The Master Builder in 2016, she plays no fewer than 26 characters in Kip Williams’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novella.

This alone is an astonishing feat, made thrillingly kinetic by her interaction with multiple screens and high-tech imagery that requires extraordinary nerve and timing. At one point, the live Snook has dinner with five pre-recorded versions of herself – with no sense of technological grandstanding for the sake of it.

To the Victorian Gothic and aphoristic genius of the original is added a hefty dose of contemporary camp. Dorian’s descent into an opium den is reimagined as a hedonistic disco in which Donna Summer’s I Feel Love is playing. The production’s aesthetic – technicolour floral – would not look out of place on a Valentino catwalk.

Yet this playfulness is underpinned by Wilde’s original tragic theme: that Dorian’s dream of remaining young while his portrait ages is doomed from the start. Williams uses the prism of Instagram filters, Botox treatment and 21st-century narcissism to give the myth a modern edge.

As Lord Henry Wotton tells Dorian: “The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young”. Unmissable.


General release

What could be more British than a film set in the 1920s, starring Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Anjana Vasan, Timothy Spall and Joanna Scanlan, about swearing? Based on a real case of poison pen letters in the seaside town of Littlehampton, Thea Sharrock’s movie is a splendidly scabrous caper – imagine an Alan Bennett screenplay, heavily edited by Derek and Clive.

Colman is the pious Edith Swann, bombarded by mind-blowingly profane mail, while Buckley plays Rose Gooding, her Irish neighbour, a loving mother who also likes a drink and a laugh, and is the immediate suspect. Though the identity of the true culprit is not hard to guess, this is fine cinematic entertainment – and proof that trolling long predates the internet.


Selected cinemas

Is the fog of amnesia worse than the recollection of trauma? This is the question posed by Mexican director Michel Franco’s eighth film, in which recovering alcoholic Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) is approached at a high school reunion by Saul (Peter Sarsgaard) who creepily follows her home. As a care worker, Sylvia senses that all is not what it seems – and discovers that Saul is suffering from early onset dementia.

She agrees to look after him, only to confront him with a terrible memory from their schooldays – a horror which Saul cannot remember. In spite of this, an intimacy develops between them, their respective vulnerabilities meshing unexpectedly. Franco has the courage not to offer conclusive answers, and Memory is all the better for it.


By Tom Chatfield, Picador, hardback

Quite simply, one of the best books on technology and culture I have read. Chatfield’s explorations take us from the first flint tools to the scientific marvels of the 21st century, an extraordinary saga that is given coherence by his formidable intellect and beautiful writing style. No Luddite, he nonetheless urges us to “escape the delusion that machine-made salvation will ever be at hand”.

Technology “exists in a constant dance with its creators, each influencing the other, neither able to go it alone”. Which means that the challenges posed by artificial intelligence, facial recognition systems, surveillance, autonomous weapons, and polarised social media are all human in nature, demanding ethical, nuanced, collaborative responses.


Apple TV+

If, like me, you have missed Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, then this eight-part science-fiction series is definitely worth your time. Banks, as ever, plays a grouchy professional with a compassionate streak: in this case, the Nobel prize-winning scientist Henry Caldera who, after an international space station is damaged by a collision, insists that precious data is retrieved.

Noomi Rapace, back in space for the first time since Prometheus (2012), is Commander Jo Ericsson, an astronaut who makes it back to earth only to encounter strange disturbances in her old life. Intelligently scripted by Doctor Who veteran Peter Harness, Constellation makes spooky use of the dualities and uncertainties of quantum physics to unsettle its characters and audience alike.

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