It’s two days before Christmas, and Sarah Snook has just finished rehearsals for the year. “I’d been struggling with the narrator, but today I finally cracked it,” she says. She’s referring to the anonymous omniscient narrator of Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, the acclaimed Sydney Theatre Company adaptation of which she will star in — as each of its 26 characters — when it makes its West End debut at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket this month.
Adapted and directed by STC artistic director Kip Williams, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” premiered in 2020 starring Eryn Jean Norvill, with three sold-out seasons in Sydney and tours to Melbourne, Adelaide and Auckland that left audiences and critics stunned. The production enables a single actor to play its entire script through the use of intricately choreographed video cameras, a combination of live and livestreamed performance, pre-recorded video and myriad demanding, transformative onstage costume changes and persona shifts.
The “Dorian Gray” opportunity first arose for Snook in late 2022, a few weeks before filming wrapped on the final season of “Succession”, Jesse Armstrong’s hit show in which she played the much-loved and even-more-loathed Shiv Roy. Snook was pregnant at the time, and became a first-time mother in April with her husband, actor Dave Lawson; meaning when Haymarket’s 14-week “Dorian Gray” run comes to an end in May, Snook will have learned, rehearsed and pre-recorded its numerous parts, and performed the play’s intricate, linguistically “muscular” (her word) and physically taxing script live on stage more than 100 times to thousands of audience members, all basically within the first year of her baby girl’s life. (Snook is set to perform every single show at Haymarket, with no alternate performer.)
On the surface, even in mere pace, this feat is a far cry from Snook’s measured and masterful portrayal of Shiv in “Succession”, a part which has occupied the past seven years of her life despite the show only comprising four seasons. That role was defined by a particular brand of consistency and an aesthetic flatness that befitted the Roy family’s wealth-induced tedium. Rightfully, Snook has been celebrated for the emotional nuance and vulnerability she brought to Shiv; an achievement for which she has earned her first Emmy win in a lead role and two Golden Globes. The show’s immense popularity and sheer artistic success saw Shiv — the boss, the bitch, the betrayed — become so engrained in the cultural imagination, it is perhaps not surprising that an actor of Snook’s calibre would jump at the chance to pull out a different trick.
It’s a signal, she says, of the kind of actor she is, and wants to be. “I feel fortunate that my passion aligns with my career, which is a rare and wonderful thing. But it is also a job,” she says, meaning she has to “strategically make choices that will keep that job going for as long as possible”. “I don’t think there are any ‘Dorian Gray’ characters that are ‘me’, necessarily, but there’s something of me as an actor that I want to show people that’s beyond the scope of what Shiv was.”
Snook was born in 1987 in Adelaide and grew up as an “outdoorsy tomboy”, the youngest of three sisters. Her parents “did lots of different things”, but somewhere along the line her mum worked as a sales rep for Disney. Snook got the VHS tapes of all the studio’s films, watching “Aladdin” so much she learnt it by heart. “I always wanted to be the Genie or Jafar, or Scar,” she says of the characters with whom she spent so much time. “I wasn’t really interested in being Cinderella.” Snook auditioned for a scholarship to Scotch College, an Adelaide high school with a strong drama program, and got it, setting her on a path towards NIDA in Sydney, from which she graduated in 2008. “To be honest, ‘Dorian Gray’ feels like a return of some part of me that feels connected to that little person, standing up on stage and doing Roald Dahl’s ‘Revolting Rhymes’ and telling stories,” she says.