"It is amazing how complete is the delusion", wondered Count Tolstoy, no doubt blinking in the cruel glare bouncing off a harlot's milk-white bosom, "that beauty is goodness". In Leo veritas. Beauty is more reliably bad-ass, and too much of it can kill.
It's a truism beautifully told in Hedda, Lucy Kirkwood's updated version of Ibsen's controversial 'female Hamlet' just coming to the end of its run at the Gate. Transplanting the tale to contemporary Notting Hill and the characters to geek chic academics and west London wideboys sounds gimmicky and trite, but the conversion is executed with such acute observation, nuance and wit that it does exactly what an adaptation should: gives unforced insight into the world in which it is now set, whilst restoring the shock of the original, leaving its bones exposed and glowing with power.
Cara Horgan is an unexpectedly funny, childishly cruel modern Hedda, all sharp clavicle, black eyeliner and bare feet, and Tom Mison's Teesman is a blinking, feckless, despairingly fuckless delight, supremely selfish in his chronic self-sacrifice. Horgan's Hedda reveals beauty as death by boredom. The unlovely, lonely acolytes around her are so easily influenced by, so eager to protect and forgive, the magic of her fragile form. When smoothly malevolent Toby (Chris Obi, in the Judge Brack role) blackmails her into submission, she panics not because he wants to destroy her, but because he longs to preserve her forever, as a fetishised, fettered thing.
Unfortunately, Matthew Bourne's ballet of Dorian Gray is all Hedda and no heart. It didn't help that, at the Sadlers Wells' late-night charity performance I attended, the prettyboy audience was as breathtakingly, languidly luscious as Bourne's famously buff dancers. It was all too, too perfect, like staring at snow. From beautifully tortured sex scene to beautifully tortured death scene, the choreography made exquisite patterns with exquisite bodies to suitably rousing tunes, and it was all a tiny bit dull. Every limb was placed in such nice disarray, each orgy so craftily chaotic, each gesture so precisely, fluidly right, that I longed for a bit of mess or playfulness, naturalness or ease, to cut through the cream. Towards the end I started to long for Christopher Walken to storm in and start doing this, scattering toned torsos all around.
Ah, me. Christopher Walken. Goodness, badness and the right kind of wrong beauty rolled up in one: Vronsky with a widow's peak. Leo would've loved him.