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A Highly Filtered Picture of Dorian Gray

"Fast-paced, involving, unnerving and convincing"

A successful mashup of Oscar Wilde's classic and internet influencer culture explores the radical instability of identity in the digital realm.

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Company: Sandpit
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A Highly Filtered Picture of Dorian Gray

Date: 23 May 2020

I am a mummy blogger.

I have two ‘blessings’, my gorgeous little tiddliwinks, and I am 37 years young. Follow me online for throw pillow arrangement advice and to know how much sugar there really is in kombucha. #live #laugh #life

Such is the persona assigned to me via email a few hours before the Sandpit production, The Unfiltered Picture of Dorian Gray, hosted on YouTube Live. A contemporary mashup of Oscar Wilde’s classic and internet influencer culture, it extrapolates the themes of identity as it’s presented and as it truly is, and shows how radically unstable this binary is in the digital age.

Fast-paced, involving, unnerving and convincing, this piece pulls out multiple trapdoors, hits on some loaded topics, and hints the idea of ‘authenticity’ might have always been a sham.

The Black Mirror-esque tale by Rachel Perks is played out through two internet personalities: the 13-year-old Millie (Catherine Văn-Davies), and the 23-year-old Caleb D’Angelo (Antoine Jelk), a TikTok influencer.

The audience is their fanbase, watching and commenting on their livestream through a chat window under their own alter egos. An image-conscious cutie from Bondi, Millie gets picked up to compete in Caleb’s “girlfriend auditions”.

Gross, right?

But the plot isn’t so simple as ‘powerful cis het white man grooms naive young Asian girl’ (though this does, in a way, still happen). Other motives are in motion.

Social media might seem superficial. But the masks, agendas and personal branding politics make it a dizzying game of pandering, pretence and vacuously nuanced intrigue.

Under the accepted auspices of influencer culture, we learn, brands cannibalise people, leveraging is everything, and redemption is possible without self-reflection or repercussions, if only the messaging is on point.

Morally, it’s enough to make you throw up in your mouth a little: how everything can be twisted to suit the brand story; how the line is between ‘seeming’ and ‘being’ can be used as a skipping rope of convenience.

Caleb’s sudden epiphany, staged live to his audience, that he might be bi was particularly provocative. Is he a straight man strategically plundering queer identity to gain follower points? A masquerade to earn new sponsorship deals and expand his demographic? When he later claims this is “his truth”, what exactly does he mean? On the other hand, if he really is bi, is it wrong to suspect or disbelieve him, even if he did make coming out a self-serving campaign? Certainty infinitely regresses.

These episodes are intercut with increasingly surreal asides. What began as abridged, then abbreviated versions of Wilde’s book become mutating interpretations of the author and his characters.

Other than a last-minute pre-show gaffe with the YouTube URL, the production coasted along smoothly.

Technically and in its design, it was less complicated than the season-opener Thirsty! ­­– which worked. There was less ad lib too, and the performers became more fascinating in their slippery personas as the show progressed.

While the audience did have a participatory role, it was not a draconian kind of power we were given, but a role-play which encouraged a deeper engagement with the show’s themes. I only wish I could’ve had a pseudonym to go with my mummy blogger – commenting things like, “my bosom is quite large my dear, you can lay your head on it xo” felt a bit weird under my real name.

Co-directed by Dan Koerner and Sam Haren, Sandpit gave Friday’s 100+ participants a thrilling, if murky, space to play in.

Better than another night in with Netflix – and I’m watching Ozark.

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