Big Finish: The Confessions Of Dorian Gray – THE HEART THAT LIVES ALONE Review

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Tony’s drawing love hearts on his pencil case.


One of the pleasures of The Confessions of Dorian Gray is that while there are arcing themes, each episode could be from any point in the last hundred years or more of his adventures as an immortal. There’s a progression in Series 1, from 1900 to 1940, to 1956 and here we leap thirty years forward to 1986 – a time of hedonism for those who could afford it. At a masked ball in Whitby of all places, Dorian finds an individual who shows no special interest in him. It’s the perversity of human nature that this is the man with whom Dorian falls in love – hopelessly, blindly, yearningly in love.

Toby – Tobias – Matthews knows what he’s about, knows the games people play, and knows he wants to clip Dorian’s wings of unbridled ego a little, to make him do the running and make him a little more bearable. And in a first for the series so far, Toby shares active narration duties, giving his side of the developing story between the pair directly with the listener, almost like they’re an additional Easter egg couple at the start of When Harry Met Sally (the must-see rom-com of the Eighties), describing how they met and fell in love.

But there’s something unusual about Toby, beyond his tactics with Dorian. There’s how he knows when to employ them. Hugh Skinner, who gives Toby a very modern flourish, will shock you in at least one scene. He’ll do it because he shocks and scares Dorian even. But after that, the two explore the parameters of their relationship, settling down to a kind of normality – yes, Dorian Gray, the wild carouser, the drug-fuelled scourge of boredom, settles down. That, if nothing else, is what’s unusual about Toby: while not exactly taming Dorian’s appetites, he does give them a conduit for safe, reduced expression, giving Dorian in turn more than he ever bargained for, or dared to ask of life.

The script, written and directed by Scott Handcock, is three things layered one on top of the other. First of all, it’s Dorian in love, which for all his charm and silver-tongued protestations feels like something new for him – even going back as far as the original source material, Dorian was the admired angel, the object of others’ obsessions, passions, and misguided notions of love. He’s always been too determined to move on, to experience the next pleasure, the next distraction to be ever completely happy with just one person. Dorian Gray, it’s fair to say, has always had commitment issues. There’s a pleasure in seeing him so thoroughly overturned here, his heart a riot, his head full of nothing but his partner, his love. It’s a lesson we weren’t sure Dorian would ever be able to learn, set as he was on the path of vacuous distraction.

But Handcock gives us more than that – in delivering us someone that Dorian can fall for utterly, and can even make a life with despite his dark bargain and his immortality, someone who complements him in every way he needs, Handcock gives us an ideal to bring down from the dark fantasy world of Dorian Gray and apply to our own lives. The fact that Dorian and Toby fit together so very well gives us lessons in how to love – passionately, completely, giving and taking what’s needed and wanted to the best of our ability.

The end to which the story of Dorian and Toby moves can be read on two levels. On one level, there’s the discovery that despite everything, that despite loving as they do, there’s a difference of viewpoint between them that renders their long-term survival as a couple untenable. On another level, you can read their viewpoint difference as a terminal disease or a chronic depression, that leads one of them to need to part, while the other cradles everything they have, everything they are until the last possible moment.

If you’ve a dry eye left at the end of The Heart That Lives Alone, you’re maybe not as human or as mortal as you think you are. Even Dorian, even the usually dry-eyed, amoral Dorian, can’t help but feel the sadness and the terrible punch of the way in which he and Toby are finally parted, and Handcock wrings the realism from every moment of the ending.

The Heart That Lives Alone is a departure from what we’ve seen before in terms of Dorian’s character, taking us perhaps back to a simpler, less governable set of emotions that he last experienced before he was first moulded into the gullible sensuous aesthete he was when he made his bargain with the Devil and isolated himself from the common feelings of the human throng. Dorian in love is just as consumed, just as eager to please as any of us would be if we found the person who made sense to every part of us. The ending of the story gives us a warning against the transience that marks humanity out, and leaves the immortal Dorian Gray a sadder, more profoundly scarred creature.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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