The National Youth Theatre's production of Selfie was a radical retelling of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Inspired by Wilde’s iconic tale of deception, youth, and vanity, this new staging by Brad Birch and the NYT REP Company brought literature’s most conceited anti-hero back to contemporary theatrical life.
It opened on 8 October 2014 at the Ambassadors Theatre in London's West End, directed by Paul Roseby.
The set for Selfie was designed to work on top of the incumbent production of Stomp at the Ambassadors Theatre. The set design included two projectable surfaces. One in the form of a giant portrait frame upstage centre, the other in the form of a downstage full-size flown gauze.
The portrait frame was back-projected to give a crisp, bright image with a short, uninterrupted throw. This ensured the image would be able to sit alongside theatrical lighting with minimum loss of clarity, and sufficient brightness. The projector was flipped 90 degrees to maximise the 1920x1080 resolution and achieve minimum crop of the 16:9 ratio. A super-wide angle lens was also fitted to achieve the required projected area over a very short throw distance.
The gauze was front-projected from the circle balcony to achieve a full-stage projectable area. Acoustic baffles were used to silence the noise of the projector, which was above the audience in the stalls.
The Dorian Picture
The most important projected element of the show was the titular image of Dorian herself. The image had to be both remarkable and dynamic. It needed to be able to evolve to reflect the story, whilst making full use of the capabilities of video.
The first stage was to obtain the still images that would form the basis of the video design. It was decided that the initial image should be remarkable in the fact that the subject seemed totally unaware of the camera. Unaware of herself. The progression would therefore be that of gradual self-awareness, leading to self-obsession and vanity, as in the story.
Photographer Mark Cocksedge shot a series of Dorian portraits that followed our reference images in terms of pose and style. Mark also retouched the images to reflect their position in the sequence, the final images being retouched to the point of distortion and vulgarity.
This progression worked for Act 1, but didn't quite provide the horror and shock required to help tell the story in Act 2. Morph and distortion tools were used to distort the final image more and more, including composite elements to achieve an ageing effect. The final image included a skull layer and masking of the original image to create a 'monster' to conclude the show.
The advantage of using video to represent the Dorian image was the picture could evolve and morph live on stage, rather than simply jumping from one image to the next. Liquify effects and distortion maps were used to create a morph effect so that the audience could see the evolution of the picture running alongside the main narrative at key moments.
It was important that there was a consistent visual language applied to the show's video content. Since the upstage frame contained so much photographic portraiture, it was decided that the gauze would, by contrast, use only monochrome, graphic content as a sort of augmented reality overlay.
This utilised the translucent nature of the gauze and meant that a sort of layered 'write-on' effect could be achieved over the set behind the gauze. The only instances that non-graphic real-world images were used on the gauze were when we saw images of those characters who die in the show. In these instances the images were combined with graphic illustration to show the character's continued existence in the digital realm after departing the real world.
The Sybil Vane Hologram
Creating the hologram effect for Sybil Vane's appearance in Act 2 involved a full-body green screen shoot followed by compositing various layers and effects to achieve the final look. This was then adjusted and mapped onto the gauze during the show's tech period to ensure the video appeared life-size and created the illusion that Sybil was entering from the stage-right wing, before growing to full stage height during the performance.
The Britannia Reveal
In one of the scenes in the production, Dorian models for some branding imagery for 'Mason Brago'. Later in the act, the new brand identity is revealed at a launch party. At the point of reveal, the cast look to the fourth wall. The audience, however, see a glimpse of the image in the frame upstage (behind the cast). As the scene changes to an exterior, the gauze flies in and we see the full-size brand identity 'write-on' over the top of the upstage frame and grow to a full billboard-sized image filling the entirety of the gauze.
Prologue to Act II
The prologue to Act 2 was originally a scripted section involving video of the ensemble cast talking directly to the audience. This was eventually cut as it felt superfluous to the story being told. However, it was still essential that the audience were informed of the passage of time between Act 1 and Act 2. The concept of the picture frame (central to the physical set design) was used to show the passing of both trends and time. The frame ends up back at the initial design to reflect one of the production's central lyrical motifs: 'same as it ever was'.
"Paul Roseby’s spunky production features some excellent video projections from Simon Eves"
"fantastic use of different forms of projection... a clever design by Verity Quinn and Simon Eves considering the space has the long-term show Stomp’s set fixed onto the stage."
"The visual elements of the piece worked extremely well, particularly the projected backdrops and the vivid ever-changing mirror displaying Dorian’s portrait."
A Younger Theatre
"the final disintegrated face on the screen – video designs by Simon Eves – is splendidly nasty"