For the first time in two years, following the now typical pandemic interruption, Affordable Art Fair is back in Battersea Park. With a VIP invitation from the good folk at Degree Art, Pawn has returned to these climbs to check out the latest on offer.
What is on is much the same as what was on the last time I made this journey to Battersea, back in 2018. There is a lot of metal — as a surface, applique, accent — and lots of bright colours. Lots of cheeky self-referential humour, lots of glamorous characters, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, joined by Amy Winehouse, for example, or the near ubiquitous David Bowie.
Pawn’s favourite Sophie Derrick is well represented in Degree’s own booth, including the large, truly impressive, and already sold, Freed Feint, made in cut-out:
Pawn is proud to have several of Sophie’s pieces in his collection, but frankly cannot afford her any longer. 🙁
Outside of Degree’s offerings, very little truly inspires on this visit, but there is this one piece, found in a far precinct of the fair, The Lemonade Stand, by “Mr Everybody”
AFF have thoughtfully provided a shuttle bus for the fair, running from Sloane Square to the fair tent. I take this back to Sloane, and stalk up from there to Hyde Park and the Serpentine Galleries. The North Gallery hosts James Barnor: Accra/London, a retrospective. Barnor is a Ghana-born photographer whose six decade career included long stints in London, as well as his native Accra. Both are treated in this expansive show.
COVID protocols are in force throughout the Serpentine’s galleries, and here good use is made of the natural circular traffic flows of the space. Fashion as well as editorial pieces fill the space. Here’s a couple of faves:
A decidedly more outre exhibit awaits at the South Gallery, in Hervé Télémaque: A Hopscotch Of The Mind. Télémaque works in whatever media suits him, or so it seems. Sculpture, assemblage, painting, you name it. Some of it is quite in-your-face, and never restrained. Here’s a couple of snaps:
Before even leaving to come here, D had sent two suggestions: 1) Noah Davis at David Zwirner and 2) Lenore Tawny at Alison Jacques, both in Mayfair. Not familiar with the former, familiar enough with the latter to know not to miss it. Off we go!
It’s Wednesday early afternoon as I trudge up into Mayfair from Green Park station. I’ve booked a 1pm view, and want to be prompt. The gallery is classic David Zwirmer, stark and large, with tall ceilings and airy, uncluttered galleries. The show is spread across two floors, with The Underground Gallery on a third level, seemingly disconnected with the first two. As with the Paula Rego the Monday before, I am quickly taken by one of the first images in the show:
I like Davis’s work, a lot. Good narrative and composition. I’ll just leave you with another image and move on.
Art Institute Chicago included Lenore Tawney in a group show on woman in textiles, not too long ago. And the J. M. Kohler hosted a comprehensive show which included over 120 of her works, a recreation of her studio, and her epic Cloud Labyrinth. We won’t dwell on that. This show, at Alison Jacques, is small, just two small galleries, and much more human scale. One room holds a dozen or so of the roughly person-sized textile pieces, and a smaller, adjacent gallery holds a handful of small (roughly 6″ or so) works on paper. It’s one of these which grabs my eye, and I took a snap (doubtless against the rules):
I leave Alison Jacques and wind my way from Mayfair into Soho, and settle on Il Cucciolo for a late lunch (it’s past 2). A green salad with a fresh, crisp dressing, and a decent sized portion of spaghetti carbonara and I’m good to go.
This evening is Is God Is, a play at the Royal Court theatre, on Sloane Square, in Chelsea. It’s already near 3 when I leave Soho and take the tube down to Sloane Square. With the Saatchi galleries so close to the Royal Court, it’s become a bit of a habit of mine to combine visits. But as I approach the Saatchi I learn that it’s closed for the day, to prepare for a rare books show. Drats! So here I am, three hours to go before my show, and nothing to do. It’s too far to head back to the flat, and the local shops hold no interest for me. Instead I head northeast through Belgravia, up to embassy row, and fume at all of the lovely private gardens along the way, but nowhere a public bench or vista.
Finally loop the loop back around past the Victoria coach yard, and settle in at Ebury Square for a pleasant sit down, watching the fountain, and the locals. After a while I return to Sloane Square and settle on a bench there, again to people watch during the early evening hustle and bustle.
Royal Court have a small bar and cafe on the lower level, so in I go and have a couple Negroni and a bowl of peanuts whilst awaiting curtain time. The show, Is God Is, is by Aleshea Harris. My second play of the visit and like the first, Athena this is a show featuring two strong women of colour, by an American woman. I’ll come right out and say that I wanted to like this show. I really wanted to. But I didn’t. I won’t drag anyone through the mud, or launch any attacks. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Oh well, at least I got to see a lot of Chelsea neighbourhoods, and do a lot of walking, sitting and watching. Oh, and the Negroni were quite good!
Grace Saif (left) and Millicent Wong (right, above) are Mary Wallace and “Athena,” respectively, a pair of high schoolers practicing fencing in preparation for Nationals. Following a bruising match won by Athena, she proposes to Mary Wallace that they commit to regular practice together. Thus begins this taut 80 minute romp through fencing and teenage girlhood.
The show was born in Brooklyn, but has been refined and adapted for presentation here in England, as part of an NT Women of Tomorrow Directors Award series. The action still set in New York, but the script by Gracie Gardner has seen work. Grace Gummer, directing, makes up the third Grace of this production.
Some have described this as a comedy, but I think that does a disservice. There are many light and funny moments in the show, but it mainly explores the inner lives of these two 17 year old women as they struggle against family expectations, peer pressure, social anxiety, and all the rest of the lot which befall young women today. Their fencing, and their growing reliance on each other, is the part of their world over which they exercise near total control. It is there that we find them, oddly enough, with their guard down.
Pawn is no fencing expert, but it sure looks like these folks have done their homework. The practice routines are tight and refined, the pre- and post-match stretches and exercises convincing. At the end of the piece is a match, and for 20 minutes or so we are held rapt with some of the smoothest and most convincing fight choreography to be found in theatre. If nothing else this show gets the Best Fencing Match On Stage award for 2021.
But it deserves more, too. The stage, designed by Ingrid Hu, is clean and spartan, beautifully complimented by Marty Langthorne’s lights. The fine movement and fight work falls to Yami Lofvenberg & Claire Llewellyn, respectively. But it is ultimately the hard work and careful reading of Saif and Wong which carry the day here. Two thumbs up!
You must see the Paula Rego at Tate Britain, I heard again and again. Okay, okay; I’ll go.
One problem, they’re fully booked through Sunday, when it closes.
With membership card in hand, off I go anyway down to Pimlico. Sure enough, upon entering I see this:
I told the nice guy at the membership counter that I had come all the way from America just to see it. Wink wink, nudge nudge. Okay, he let me in. Membership has its privileges!
The very first piece in the show just grabs me. I have seen my share of Paula Rego before this (more on that later) but I have certainly never seen this piece. Forgot to get the name of it, but here’s the image:
This is an expansive late-career retrospective, featuring more than 100 works spanning 60 years and 11 galleries. It’s the largest ever shown in the UK. I shan’t do it justice here with amateur snaps and critique. I liked the show, even as I bristled at some of the imagery, and simply didn’t get others. The piece above remains my favourite of the lot, but I have a soft spot for the Pillow Man triptych (centre panal here):
The full triptych was featured a few years ago in a show I saw on the influences — of and by — Francis Bacon. A pleasure to see it here, again.
Whenever Pawn comes to London, theatre, dance, music and art are a big part of the undertaking. Life under COVID makes this a somewhat more fraught exercise, but vaxxed and masked, we jump right in. The first show of the visit is the Philip Glass opera, Satyagraha, presented here by English National Opera (ENO), and produced in cooperation with New York’s Metropolitan Opera. This production is a collaboration not just with the Met, but also with Improbable, a British company who are, in their own words, “Pioneering improvisers, theatre makers and conversation facilitators.”
Pawn and X first encountered Improbable’s fine work in 2012’s The Devil and Mr Punch, a collaboration with Julian Crouch and Basil Twist. That was a small performance in the Pit, the Barbican’s smallest venue. This event couldn’t be further from that; a humongous performance in London’s largest (>2300 seats) theatre, the Coliseum. While not a frequent attendee of opera, Pawn does appreciate the bombasity, sheer size, spectacle, and audacity of well done opera. Aside from some Pucini, back home in Milwaukee, the last big show I’d seen was Benvenuto Cellini, an ENO production conceived & directed by Terry Gilliam, at a performance in Amsterdam. Or William Kentrige’s take on Lulu, here in London.
So how was Satyagraha? Sung in sanskrit, sans surtitles, one was left only to imagine precise action. While there was a synopsis provided, in the form of a one page handout, it is somewhat non-traditional. But this didn’t really matter. The score is propulsive where the action demands it, and contemplative where it doesn’t. The staging, as one expects of these things, was truly spectacular. Improbable’s impact was most surely felt in the many instances of puppetry, as shown in the scene above, or here:
The story follows the full arc of Gandhi’s life and works, from his youthful engagement with Tolstoy (The Tolstoy Farm) all the way through to Martin Luther King, Jr., as shown in this scene from King (Act III):
It is that final act with King which yields perhaps the most moving tableau of the piece, and it is deeply emotional. It is in this emotion, however, where Glass’s score risks leaving us wanting. The swirling, repetitive, patterns which characterize Glass’s compositions risk becoming tedious over the span of three hours and ten minutes (including intervals). But it is in these final scenes, with King, that these same repetitions bring force to Gandhi’s imploring, almost chant-like final aria.
I came to this show primarily on the basis of Improbable’s involvement, and was not disappointed in any way. The show was beautiful and stunning. The performances strong, the staging expansive. This is no small feat.
The premier play by David Baddiel, just opened at Soho Theatre, leads with this blurb:
What would happen if someone was able to prove, scientifically, the existence of God? When Edie, a student in university lecturer Henry Brook’s physics class, seems to do exactly that, his universe – including his marriage to celebrity atheist author Virginia – is rocked.
Hmmm, okay. Buy a ticket.
The show is not bad, but plays a little fast and loose on the science end of things. Not being religious, I cannot speak to how well it treats that side. Regardless, it is a good yarn. Henry, Alan Davies, is a teacher of sub-atomic physics — quantum mechanics, relativity, string theory, etc. — and Edie, Leila Mimmack, comes up to him after a class to ask him a question about belief. She’s a Christian, a fact she leads with, brandishing an intellectual carapace to ward off what she assumes will be his scientific arrogance against believers. Her question, when she finally gets to it, has to do with why she should believe in the wild assumptions of quantum mechanics rather than the mythology of her religion.
What ensues, then, is a bizarre bit of maths, in which Henry seeks to prove that it would take 2.5 joules of energy for Jesus to produce 100 litres of wine from water. This is a great deal of silliness, in that the entire calculation is based on the assumption that all that wine is is water with some small percentage of alcohol (it’s all chemistry — how much carbon, oxygen, hydrogen) and there’s no mention of tannin or flavour or anything else. This is a thought experiment gone haywire.
But, and this is the real stretch, this demonstration of using maths to prove that a biblical “miracle” might have happened, is enough to launch Henry and Edie into writing a book, God’s Dice, full of such wild calculations and “proofs.” Meanwhile, Henry’s wife Virginia, Alexandra Gilbreath, is a world renowned Atheist, and author of five books skewering religion. While she tries to be supportive of Henry, she is suspicious of Edie’s motives, and can’t help mocking this endeavour.
Ultimately, the book gets published, and during interval a counter on the backdrop shows us how many “followers” it’s gaining on social media. You see, a new religious movement is forming around this book, a “new” religion freed from the old ways, or so we’re told, by Edie, as she takes the helm of this new faith. She insists it isn’t a cult, by the way.
Okay, so Pawn you might be thinking, Why were you even at this show when you seem incredulous of so much of the plot? Well, you know what? It’s a really good play! The script, while venturing into wild misapplications of both science and theology, is well written and compelling. The acting is first rate, especially Alan Davies as Henry and Alexandra Gilbreath as Virginia. Her role has the widest range, as she must swoop from extreme top-of-her-game self confidence (with no small measure of arrogance) to the slouching in a sweatshirt, swilling wine, fearing social media attacks, losing hold of her marriage, professional life collapsing, being heckled during TED Talks reality of the second act. Gilbreath pulls this off with aplomb. Her performance is at once sympathetic and gripping, which is surprising since, at the top of Act I, we didn’t much like her.
The set, by Lucy Osborne, is a marvel of simplicity and effective as hell. What start out as multi-panel white boards, which slide up and down like sash windows, serve as projection surfaces and screens. They are used to great effect through out the show, being played upon by Ric Mountjoy’s able lighting and Ash Woodward’s video.
God’s Dice plays through 30 November 2019 at Soho Theatre, 21 Dean St., Soho. email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 0207 478 0100
Rarely does theatre make Pawn angry, but this piece did. Heroin(e) For Breakfast is winner of the Holden Street Theatre Award, Fringe Review Outstanding Theatre Award, and sold out at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Philip Stokes wrote this in 2009, and this production is a re-staging with updates, tho few were needed, one imagines. Stokes also directed this production.
A festival piece, the stage is simple — a desolate apartment shared by Tommy, Lee Bainbridge, and Chloe, Kristy Anne Green. At curtain we find Tommy slouching on the couch, watching telly and scratching his balls. In saunters Edie, his young (too young) girlfriend, half naked. She walks between him & the telly, raising his ire, before seducing him into a quick shag, which, from the looks of it, neither of them particularly enjoy. Tommy, when he’s not shagging Edie, is spouting off about how great of a revolutionary he is, how misunderstood, how he’s going to change the world, etc.
Part I of why I got angry was the audience. Many smaller venues in London are experimenting with, or have flat-out instituted, so-called Relaxed Performances. In some cases these are specific show times/dates, in other cases it’s all performances. In a relaxed performance, audience are allowed to do all of those things which they’re not allowed to normally. The original intent was to allow autism-spectrum viewers access to traditional theatre in a setting which would not disrupt. Now it basically means Hey, we’re loose.
The Bunker, Battersea Arts Centre, and others have these. All shows at The Bunker are relaxed, and many at BAC. This show was at Pleasance, and wasn’t advertised as Relaxed, but almost as soon as the show started, so did a stream of whistles, cat calls, and other outbursts from some audience members. If that wasn’t disruptive enough, the resultant procession of ushers trying to sush, warn, cajole, these unruly audience, who must have though they were in an Edwardian-era music hall. Finally, after opening a bag of crisps, and proceeding to crunch them, the offenders were banished, entirely or just to the back row is unknown to me.
The show, meanwhile, is descending into further decrepitude. Chloe, Tommy’s roommate and ex, has shown up, and is picking fights with Edie when not complaining about Tommy. Tommy goes off to the store for breakfast goods and heroin. Oh yeah, that. We’ve been warned that this is a show about wasting youth and drugs.
In this case, Heroin(e) is also a person, or appears that way; a large brash blonde struts into the flat and in crass fashion by turns insults and seduces the occupants, until finally, with a vampire’s kiss to their inner elbow, enters them.
Along the way, racial slurs and other epithets are hurled — Paki, the “N” word, slag, whore, towel-head, etc. — without the slightest flinch. These people are horrid and completely uninspiring of compassion. Part II of my anger.
The play ends with a pile of overdosed corpses, and that’s well enough done for me. The programme tells us that King Brilliant Theatre, a producer of this show, “…was founded in anger in the summer of 2018 as a positive platform for working-class actors with the theatre industry. King Brilliant works in engaging with communities and young people in a language they understand and through work they respond and connect to…” Right o.
Pawn continues to enjoy the ready stream of Edinburgh shows coming down to London stages shortly after the festival closes, and will keep coming to the showcase presentations put on by venues like Pleasance, Bunker (soon to close and hopefully pop up elsewhere), The Yard and others. Sometimes, like tonight, what you get can be unpleasant.
William Blake is a point of pride for the English, and they’re quick to remind you he was an artist as well as poet. I contend he was a man before his time, a comic book maker before comic books existed. The current exhibition of his drawings, prints, books and such at Tate Britain makes my point for me. Pawn attended Sunday along with artist friend J.
Blake was born in London in 1757, in Broad St, Soho, and stayed in that area throughout his life, passing away in 1827. While most American college students know Blake for his poetry, here his work as a print maker is at least as well known, and celebrated. Print making is how he made his living, for the most part, having been trained as an engraver. In 1788 he developed a new technique, Relief Etching, which allowed him to combine text and graphics (sound familiar?) on a single page.
Most of Blakes prints center around biblical themes and stories, and, as such, are somewhat a mystery to me, with my not-so-religious tendencies. I can still enjoy the imagery, of course. Religious stories dovetail with the overwrought nature of Blake’s work. Musculature is always on display, to the point of absurdity at times. Take this example, where even the clutching child is ripped:
The exhibit is expansive, containing tonnes of Blake’s work, including several complete volumes, many of which had previously been rent from their bindings, the better to be displayed as individual pieces. There’s even some discussion of this practice, and rumination upon how the viewing experience is changed when these images are encountered separately, as opposed to turning page after page of them.
One later piece, in the final gallery, is displayed with each page laid out, and a magnifier lens available to place over to aid in the reading. One visitor took this not as a suggestion, but a commandment, and proceeded to go from page to page with the magnifier, reading aloud the text for all to hear. Quite odd, that.
Enough of my prattling, for that matter. Here’s more snaps, cleaned up a bit. Then I’ll leave you to it.
As with almost all of the large museum shows this trip, William Blake was heavily attended, the crowds making it quite hard to enjoy the works in many cases. The show, at Tate Britain, runs through 2 February 2020.
Maxim Gorky wrote plays from 1901 – 36, seventeen in all, and Vassa Zheleznova started life in 1910, but was not performed until after he rewrote it in 1935, making it, in a sense, the last he wrote.
In the new production at Almeida Theatre, little seems altered from the original, and, in a sense, it doesn’t really need it. Corporate corruption, family infighting, gross inequality, tension between the sexes; what’s so different now from then?
Here’s how Almeida’s website describes Mike Bartlett’s adaptation, directed by Tinuke Craig:
It’s 8am and a revolt is underway. The father is dying. The son is spying. The wife is cheating. The uncle is stealing. The mother is scheming. The dynasty is crumbling. One house. One fortune. One victor.
Spot on! This is a comedy which breaks the rules; there are deaths, and everyone doesn’t end up married in the end. As a matter of fact, few marriages survive in this tale. Pawn has seen a lot of theatre on this trip, and not even had the time to write about it all. I will say that this is a lovely and spirited production. The ensemble is strong, with no particular standouts, other than Siobhán Redmond in the titular role, the family matriarch. She dominates the stage, in a good way, right from the start, and never lets go. Amber James, as daughter Anna, returning to the family homestead just in time to bid her father rest in peace, turns in a nuanced yet powerful performance.
Due to the dual blights of war and alcoholism, Soviet women from the era of the original production were left to run things, by and large, as so many men had been removed from society — via WW-I, the revolution, and drink. So strong female leads is no shock for a Russian play from the era, and it resonates well today.
Well designed and presented within Almeida’s cozy little space, this is a crowd pleaser, and it certainly provided a light end to my evening, after the matinee of Death of a Salesman, earlier in the day.
Oh, and the dinner Pawn had in the adjoining Almeida Cafe was lovely. Chicken stew with fresh-baked bread, and a Negroni to sip with it. Delightful!
Vassa plays through 23 November at Almeida Theatre, Islington. Booking information at https://almeida.co.uk/whats-on/vassa/7-oct-2019-23-nov-2019
When the email from Hackney Empire first arrived, back in September, announcing a new adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, I didn’t know what to think of it. I’ve not read the book, but was well aware of it. After some thought I booked a single in stalls for Friday night’s performance, and am now well glad that I did.
This production, by Birmingham Repertory Theatre, uses an adaptation by Bryony Lavery, and is directed by Melly Still. Starring Charlotte Beaumont as Susie, with a dozen other cast members, it’s a big show. The staging, by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita, set & costume, and Matt Haskins, lighting designer, is absolutely brilliant, and easily puts Bones into the same camp as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as far as visual innovation.
One thing which is almost immediately striking about this piece is how sparse the stage is. Even before the show begins, we see a mostly bare stage, with a row of corn stalks far upstage, and a wooden swivel chair. That’s all. Above the stage, however, starting just above the row of corn, and extending high into the fly gallery, is a Mylar mirror, providing a clear over-head view of the stage, from our perspective in the audience (one wonders how well this plays in circle and balcony seats?).
As the action begins, we first see a woman start to pour from a bag of salt, a thin line, in a large rectangle, around the centre of the stage. In that centre is Susie, who is recounting for us the story of how she was lured by her neighbour, Mr Harvey, into a newly dug bunker. Once there, he rapes and murders her. She is telling us all of this as if a bad memory, this teenage girl, for she is dead, she knows she is dead, and as the woman completes the rectangle, Susie faces her new reality; that her new “heaven” is circumscribed by this line on the floor around her.
The woman who has poured out this salt is Franny (Avita Jay), Susie’s “intake counselor” in heaven. Franny explains the rules of this heaven to Susie — The line on the floor surrounding Susie is the limits of her “heaven” and she cannot go past it — who immediately tries to break out and go back to real life. She fails, but does succeed, from time to time in these attempts, in “touching” someone from her life — her father Jack (Jack Sandle), her classmate Ruth (Leigh Lothian) — and planting a connection which may lead them to important information or influence.
So for most of the show not only is Beaumont on stage, but confined to this small part of it, unable to hide upstage, let alone exit into the wings. Kudos to her, then, for not just a brilliant, compelling performance (and totally believable as a teenage girl), but for her endurance and ability to remain on stage, not drawing focus, for those sections in which Susie isn’t the focus.
The cast is large, and multi-cast, so there are even more characters than cast members. Those paying double roles do so deftly, especially Samuel Gosrani as both Ray, Susie’s boyfriend, and Holiday, the family dog. This last bit involves the use a a “cone of shame” collar, as used by vets to keep dogs from picking at wounds, as a signifier of Holiday’s dog-hood. It’s a simple yet brilliant piece of costuming, letting the audience see the dog, yet not trying to convince us some fur suit is dog-like enough.
I shan’t recite the entire plot here; the story is well known. And, as I haven’t read the book, I cannot speak to how accurately the play tracks it (or the film, for that matter). What I can tell you is that the script propels the story forward, turning it into both a detective story, which we see from the victim’s eyes, knowing the perpetrator from the get-go, and a story of loss and love, of affections missed, and of the inevitable progress of the lives of others in our absence.
Jack, Susie’s father, is stuck; he can’t move past her death, and his conviction that Harvey is guilty. Abigail, mother, is bereft, not just of her daughter, but her husband too. She turns to the lead detective, Fenerman (Huw Parmenter), himself a widower, for comfort. Lindsey, sister, keeps growing up, starts a romance, goes to college, and settles down. The list goes on, as people move through their lives, seemingly teasing Susie, who doesn’t even get a change of wardrobe as they gain years.
Some casting is confusing at times. Color blind is so common these days as to be expected, but gender blind can leave one unsure who is who, and this is at times the case with the choice to have a woman, Leigh Lothian, play both Ruth, Susie’s artistic friend, and Buckley, her little brother. Especially as Buckley progresses in life, it is sometimes hard to track just who is who. Otherwise, none of the casting caused trouble, and the multi-role casting did allow for a wealth of characters without breaking the bank.
Story telling is what drives this piece, and here, again, the set lends a huge hand. That angled mirror mentioned earlier is also not fully silvered, so action on small sets, behind the mirror, shine through when lit properly. This allows for many layers of set to be in play at once, as Susie tells a bit of story, for example, a room lights up behind and above her, showing Mr Harvey working on a dolls house, his hobby. This is used to wonderful effect at several points through out the show, to augment to available spaces on the main stage, and is of tremendous effect to draw our gaze off of the stage floor, and create a more complete heaven/earth scenario.
The audience loved it. This is the fastest standing ovation I’ve seen on this trip. The Brits are more sparing about standing Os than American audiences, at least off the West End, where, alas, automatic ovations are becoming more common. This ovation was spontaneous, and well earned. This is a scrappy cast in a scrappy production which punches above its weight class and wins. Pawn won’t be surprised to hear someday that this show moves to the West End, or ends up on Broadway.
The Lovely Bones completed it’s brief run at Hackney Empire on 1 November 2019. This review was of the final performance of the run.
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