Category Archives: Review

God’s Dice

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.

https://sohotheatre.com/shows/gods-dice/

Hmmm, okay. Buy a ticket.

Alan Davies as Henry and Alexandra Gilbreath as Virginia

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 box1@sohotheatre.com, or call 0207 478 0100

Heroin(e) For Breakfast

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.

Comic Book Heroes, Blake Style

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.

These are from Blake’s Busby Berkeley phase 🙂

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.

Vassa

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. 

https://almeida.co.uk/whats-on/vassa/7-oct-2019-23-nov-2019

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.

Siobhán Redmond as Vassa

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.

Sophie Wu, Siobhán Redmond, and Amber James in Vassa

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

Death Of A Salesman

Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman is certainly an American classic, having been in virtually continuous performance on stages across the country since it’s premier in 1949. A favourite from college theatre programmes to Broadway or regional repertory companies. That the Young Vic chose to produce it for its Off-Westend space on The Cut, in Waterloo, isn’t then a shock. That it chose to do so with a mostly black cast (the entire Loman family, and some others) maybe was. That the Young Vic production, co-directed by Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell, and starring Wendell Pierce as Willie Loman, went on to be a sell out, and transferred to the Piccadilly Theatre, on the West End, is no surprise at all.

It’s just that good.

Joining Pierce in the cast are Sharon Clarke as his long suffering wife Linda (of course, as every wife in a Miller play), Sope Dirisu as son Biff, Natey Jones as younger son Hap, Joseph Mydell as Uncle Ben (a dream device), and Trevor Cooper as Charley, the neighbour; Ian Bonar, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Emmanuel Ogunjinmi, Matthew Seadon-Young, Carole Stennett, Nenda Neurer, and Femi Temowo round out the cast, some playing multiple characters.

The set is a lovely piece of spatial trickery. Massive, foreboding walls ring the stage, pierced here and there with passageways, and mostly just sink into the background. Suspended in air, however, are door & window frames, tables, chairs, mirrors, lamps, wall sconces, etc. The entire insides of a home, from the water heater to the window sill; all hang in silence, waiting their turn. There are a couple of set pieces — the fridge, a filing cabinet — which slide on from the wings, but pretty much everything else flies in and out, but never leaves our view, due to the total lack of drapery — the teasers and tormentors of a typical proscenium production.

Somewhat fuzzy view from the second row, before the show.

Not having seen the original Young Vic staging, Pawn cannot state this with certainty, but strongly suggests that these choices by designer Anna Fleischle was based on the more flexible space available there.

No synopsis should be needed for this show. Willie is 63 years old, has been working for the same firm for more than half his life, and has recently lost his salary and now only earns commissions. He’s been feeling shaky lately, having a harder time driving his territory, which takes him from his Yonkers home to the far reaches of New England, selling whatever it is he sells (not important to the story). He’s not been the best of men, but he has to tell himself that he is, it’s part of what a salesman has to do to keep himself going.

Sope Dirisu as Biff, photo by Brinkhoff Mogenburg

Likewise, his boys, Biff and Hap (shortened from Happy, nickname for Harold), the former a football star in school, who blew his chance at a scholarship by failing maths, the latter a fast talking accounts clerk, imagining himself heading his department by years end.

Wendell Pierce as Willie Loman, photo by Brinkhoff Mogenburg

The essential conflict in this story is between Willie’s overly high expectations for Biff, and Biff’s struggle against an unspoken scar left from some event fifteen years past. I shan’t ruin that, for those unfamiliar with the story, but I will say that as gifted as Wendell Pierce is in his portrayal of WIllie, it is Sope Dirisu’s turn as Biff which brings down the house. His performance is one for the ages. Not to take anything away from any in this all star cast.

Cooper, as Charley, provides both a comedic and observant counterweight to Loman’s overwrought angst and hyperbolic outbursts. His performance as even as his character’s patience and affection for the voluble Loman. Clarke’s Linda is the other counterweight, on the domestic front, always abiding her husband’s outbursts and suffering with him in his silent descent into whatever is gripping at his soul. Her final scene is sure to bring tears to many eyes, a fact proved by the people in the row ahead of me digging for tissues in their purses.

By the end of the play, the stage pieces (above), have been flown to the height they would rest at in the real house, creating the illusion of a physical first storey where no floor exists. It is a fitting metaphor for a home (final payment made just as the final denouement occurs) which looks solid while melting into air (to paraphrase Karl Marx).

Oh, and that bit about race? That thing where the Loman family, and some secondary characters are black, not white as in the original? What does that matter? Ultimately, it means nothing. Some may well seek and find racial allegory in this choice, but Pawn feels that it just doesn’t matter, and that that is the point of the casting choice. Or it could be.

During interval, a discussion with an older couple seated just down the row found them asking whether Pawn felt it mattered, not being as familiar with American race relations as they are with British. They were genuinely curious, and it lead to an interesting discussion. My main thought, at the midway point of the show, was that more theatres should pursue this casting so both to provide more meaty roles to actors of colour and the make manifest that, underneath such differences, we are all the same. A father’s dreams for his sons is a fierce driver.

Pawn loved this show. That it ran three hours (with 15 minute interval) puts it at the edge of most modern productions, but it was well worth it. Heavy for a matinee? Yes, but still well worth it.

Death of a Salesman runs from 24 October at the Piccadilly Theatre. Booking information at https://www.youngvic.org/perfs/2276

The Lovely Bones

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?).

The Lovely Bones, photo by Pamela Raith for The Hackney Citizen

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.

Inward and outward gazes — Part II

Okay, I’m back. Also at Royal Academy, alongside Lucian Freud, is Antony Gormly, a farily impressive mid-career retrospective, including some truly humongous works, six of which were commissioned or produced for this show, making full use (and more!) of the large gallery spaces of the RA.

The smallest work, 1999’s Iron Baby, isn’t even “in” the show, as it’s a rather subtle lump of metal on the floor of the RA’s courtyard; a baby, indeed, upon closer inspection.

Iron Baby, 1999, photo by Martin Kennedy https://www.studiointernational.com/images/articles/g/074-gormley-antony-2019/gormley-iron-baby-01-photo-martin-kennedy.jpg

The first room of the exhibit, attended by a crowd exceeding even that in the Freud show, is filled with early works, from the 1970s – 80s. I honestly had a hard time getting to where I could appreciate many of these, for as soon as one could establish enough distance from a piece to properly look at it, someone would step in to fill the void and thus obscure the work. As a result, I adopted the technique of simply trying to see what I could, and take quick snapshots of what I couldn’t properly appreciate, for later viewing. Here’s some of those, in no particular order.

From “Slabworks”, 2019
Crowds around more of “Slabworks,” 2019
A figure silhouetted in toast
“One Apple” Each of the fifty-three lead balls encloses an apple (still inside) from a different stage of growth.
“Subject II” 2019
“Clearing VII” 2019 — 8 km of aluminium tubing, coiled into the gallery space and then allowed to relax.

Now we are into the modern works, and these are huge, and huge crowd pleasers. Just getting around Clearing VII took effort. Not just from clamoring over and around the unspooled tubing, but working through the crowds of onlookers.

The next gallery contained Matrix III, 2019, a massive piece of lightweight construction. Twenty-one room sized cages made of construction steel mesh (“98% recycled” the pamphlet assures us) all intersect in the space above our heads in the large, central gallery. The effect is amazing, and finally calms the crowds somewhat. Some simply lay down on the floor beneath it, staring up, dazed.

One of the most successful, and bewitching, pieces is Lost Horizon, 2019, in which countless of Gormly’s trademark male figures stand in a room, on all surfaces of a room, peering aimlessly out into space.

Two galleries further along, past cases of sketchbooks and drawings (almost impossible to get to and look at) is a confounding pile of metal, piled up just past the entrance to the next gallery. A part of this assemblage opens like a hungry maw into this gallery, providing a path for those adventurous souls. This is Cave, 2019.

The next room, into which one spills if passing thru Cave, (Pawn, by the way, chose not to), is a smaller gallery with a door partially open to view Host, 2019, a large gallery, the floor lined with clay from the seaside, and filled with ocean water. The crowd simply piles up around this doorway, gawking and fumbling with phones.

So what? I love Gormly’s work, in small doses. His human forms are so simple, resonant, and moving in their mute vulnerability. In this exhibit, with the large and imposing works, one sees more than those simple figures. It is wildly successful, as the crowds and their reactions reveal. Matrix III is an amazing accomplishment in realization, and is both jarring and contemplative at once. Host, less so, for me at least; same with Cave. Although the jumble of metal behind Cave is a joy, in its irreverence to the hallowed halls of RA. All in all, I enjoyed this exhibit, but, once again, for the crowds.

Antony Gormly, through 3 December 2019 at the Royal Academy, Picadilly.

Inward and outward gazes — Part I

With a pair of Timed Admissions in hand, Pawn paid a visit to the Royal Academy of Art, in Piccadilly. These two shows — Lucian Freud: The Self Portraits; and Antony Gormly — couldn’t be more different from each other. The former looking, preeminently, inward, the latter outward. But also, in scale; the Freud intimate and close, the Gormly huge and expansive. This post addresses Freud, the next Gormly.

The focus of Lucian Freud: The Self Portraits is on fifty portraits made by the painter during a nearly 70-year career. From the first flat work from 1940, through to the last piece, completed in 2002 (he died in 2011), we see a wide range of works, from drawing to the thick impasto Freud is so well known for. In many cases, through supporting material — sketches, etc. — we see multiple versions of the same piece, whether studies or aborted attempts. Some of the latter are nearly blank canvases, with just an outcropping of paint on an otherwise incomplete background of sketch marks.

Hotel Bedroom, 1954
Sketch for Hotel Bedroom, 1954 (forgive reflections)

While there are fifty pieces in this exhibition, not all are strictly self portraits. Pieces have been included, such as Freddy Standing, 200-2001 and, from the same period, Flora with Blue Toenails, Freud’s own inclusion in the works is limited to his feet, perhaps, or some other reflection in a well placed mirror. Were it not for this being pointed out to us, we may well wonder why these pieces are in this show.

At fifty pieces this is an impressive show, especially as so many of them had to be scouted from private collections. But these represent just a small sample of the self portraits Freud made over the course of so many years. Most, alas, were destroyed.

While several of the pieces are familiar and widely known, as previously mentioned, several are held in private collections, so are less often exhibited. Here’s a few more snaps, mostly of these lesser seen works…

An earlier version of Reflection with Two Choldren (Self Portrait), 1985, we see an intention to depict himself with his hand on his hip, not resting on his waist, as it ultimately ended up (below)
Reflection with Two Choldren (Self Portrait), 1985

I don’t accept the information that I get when I look at myself and that’s where the trouble starts.

Lucian Freud

In this final series, including some of the last self portraits completed (which are preserved) we can see Freud’s acute reckoning with his own aging. (Note: Apologies for the crooked angles, but it was very crowded, and hard to get a good shot sometimes)

That’s all for Freud. More on Gormly in the next post…

Brexit-o-ween

I like my sex like I like my Brexit; hard and fast.

Street saying around Britain

My sex is like Brexit; glacial and unresolved.

Reality around Britain

The whole point of the schedule of Pawn’s current visit to London was to be here for the (latest) deadline of the UK’s execution of its Article 50 withdrawal declaration; Brexit. Brexit deadlines have figured in most of the last several such trips, ever since Pawn’s June/July 2016 visit, during which the ill-fated Brexit vote itself occurred, to such disastrous results. As with previous such deadlines, however, this one, too, has passed without resolution.

I shan’t go delving into the latest hubbub; there’s news channels and such for that. Suffice to say that politicians have learnt there are, in fact, limits to their powers. As for the whole Brexit topic, let’s leave it at this: British divorce from the EU is a worse policy decision than George W Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, but the ultimate effect upon the UK will be more like Bush’s policy’s effect upon Iraq than like its effect upon the USA. While it’s easy to see the Brexit vote as nothing more than the clear expression of the people’s will (it was a referendum, after all) it’s closer to the Bush’s fiasco than that. Bush lied to his own government, his own people, and to the governments and people of US allies in order to win his way. Brexiteers did the same.

Okay, so what does one do when the Brexit ball is kicked down the road? One goes to look at art, that’s what. So on Brexit-o-ween, Pawn proceeded down to Bankside, burrough of Southwark, and Tate Modern. Current shows include Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, and what I’ve been referring to as a bafflingly comprehensive retrospective of Nam June Paik, the pioneering video artist. The former is big, bold, audience pleasing, and, due to massive phone-weilding crowds, unsatisfying. The latter is smaller, in the scale of its individual pieces, if not its scope, and, blessedly, less cluttered with the zombified masses of people mesmerized by the image in their phone rather than by the actual art in front of them.

One thinks Paik would have preferred it this way, and, for all I know, Eliasson would too?

Pawn witnessed the Paik first, and then the Eliasson, so here’s some snaps of each, in that order. But first, in the spirit of a day “…not spent, but well used up…” (in the words of Gilbert and George) in the pursuit of art, let’s start with a piece of simple graffiti found along the Shoreditch High Street, by Boxpark

The face, dummy, not the scrawl!

Now the Paik…

TV Buddha, 1974
TV Garden, 1974-77
Exposition of Music: Electronic Television exhibition poster, 1963
Robot family, father & mother
Richard Nixon television address, on a timer, first one image is distorted, then the other.
One Candle, (Candle Projection) 1989
Sistine Chapel 1993, shown for the first time since inclusion in German pavilion of the Venice Biennale of that year.

Ed Ruscha has adorned the Artists Rooms, and here’s his 2017 rumination on the US flag:

Ed Ruscha 2017

And now the one photo I took from the Olafur Eliasson exhibition, In Real Life. This exhibit was so totally clogged with people staring into their phone’s camera screens, that it was almost impossible to navigate the space, let alone enjoy any of the artwork. Also contributing to the claustrophobic effect of that was the fact that the hall was crawling with school children. Involving kids in the arts from a young age is to be applauded, but in this case there was far less supervision than required, and kids were slamming into artworks, slapping them (and each other) and careering about the galleries.

So this one photo I took? It’s of Din Blind Passager (your blind passenger) 2010, realized here in a long hallway, running almost the entire length of one of the exhibit hall’s walls. This hallway, narrow enough that one can reach out and touch both walls, has air- and light-lock rooms on each end, is filled with incredibly dense theatrical fog, and illuminated for almost its entire length in a vivid amber colour. Near the far end of the tunnel, the lighting changes to a very bluish white. One can generally only see about 18″ in front of oneself. Pawn took this single photo within this hall, of the unknown woman walking ahead of me:

And, of course, no visit to Tate Modern would be complete without whatever the hell they’ve decided to put in the Turbine Hall. Here it is Kara Walker’s turn. And this completes our tour…

Wokeness or not?

This is a bit of a Catch Up post, in that the events described herein occurred Saturday last, but I am only just now getting around to writing them down.

Saturday was a full day for Pawn with a matinee of Shuck ‘n’ Jive, at Soho Theatre, in Soho, and an evening performance of Dirty Crusty, at The Yard, in Hackney Wick. And it actually turns out to be a pretty good double bill.

Shuck ‘n’ Jive is a piece by Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong and Simone Ibbett-Brown, about two young black women named Cassi & Simone, played by Tanisha Spring and Olivia Onyehara, respectively. Directed by Lakesha Arie-Angelo, the two performers are on a single set, between two risers of seating, on a long, narrow stage. At each end of the stage are set walls, studded with props which will be used during the show, as well as a pair of video screens which grant us visibility into the character’s text messages.

The plot is simple enough; Cassi & Simone are frustrated in their intersectional lot in life. They are black in a white-dominated society, and they are women in a male dominated society. Not only that, but they are artists in a society which doesn’t deem that too important, providing a third axis to their intersectionality. We are voyeurs on the wall of their auditions, which inevitably devolve, at least in their minds, from Ophelia’s soliloquys into minstrel show rags.

They’re fed up, and they’re not going to take it any more! So, in Howard Beal meets Mickey Rooney, they’re going to put on a show, and most of the rest of out show is watching Cassi & Simone plan how to put together their ground-breaking new show about black women artists putting on a show for unappreciative white producers, and audiences.

So, how well does it work? Pretty good, if you ask me. There’s a little preachiness now and then, but the diverse audience at this Soho matinee seemed appreciative of even that. One of the show’s best bits, which pops up now and then, is a Game Show divertissement called Fine When We’re Friends in which a racial- or gender-insensitive or ignorant phrase is read aloud, and contestants must identify whether this would be generally acceptable, acceptable from a friend, or not acceptable at all. Overall there’s a very optimistic aire to this piece, well performed by the high energy duo of Spring & Onyehara, who’s bubbly energy and, at times, wide-eyed enthusiasm, infects the viewer.

So is this a minstrel show itself? Perhaps, but one with a point, and acid point.

Next up was Claire Barron’s Dirty Crusty at The Yard. I mention the playwright before the title as Ms Barron has earned top billing, with her earlier successes, Dance Nation, You Got Older, I’ll Never Love Again, and Baby Screams Miracle. Barron’s work has won her Obie awards, Pulitzer nods, Drama Circle nominations, etc. Girl got game.

This production, directed by The Yard’s founder and Artistic Director, Jay Miller, stars Akiya Henry as Jeanie, an aimless thirty-something, Douggie McMeekin as Victor, Jeanie’s neighbour and old friend, and Abiona Omonua as Synda, a dancer and instructor at a local youth club.

Photo by Maurizio Martorana

Plot? There is no real high mission on this tale of a woman finding herself in the middle of her life (in her eyes, she’s pretty young if you ask me) and feeling as though she’s just been drifting sideways, with no forward movement. She doesn’t really like her friends; lives like a slob; wants sex but not love; and feels like she’s getting out of life exactly what she’s putting into it; Nothing.

After skipping out on a party, she runs into Victor on the way home. Not having seen each other in some time, they realize they’re now neighbours. It’s not really giving too much away to reveal that they quickly decide that they want to fuck a lot, but not get too attached. Yeah, right. We all know how that goes. Meanwhile, Jeanie stumbles across Synda practicing her ballet steps through the windows of the kids club. They strike up a discussion and soon Synda is teaching Jeanie rudimentary dance, and considering her for a role in a small performance piece.

So these three people, in various combinations, bounce off of each other and impinge upon each other’s dreams and fears. That Jeanie and Synda are both black is, perhaps, totally ancillary to the story, but having just seen Shuck ‘n’ Jive, perhaps Pawn was sensitized to this fact. Victor is white, yet there is no real racial tension implied or expressed. Perhaps just colour-blind casting at it’s best?

I shan’t go in to much more depth. This is a somewhat aimless play. until it very much isn’t, but to reveal the ways and means of that would be to reveal too much. I liked this show, a lot. The performances were top notch across the board. Henry, as Jeanie, has perhaps the heaviest lift of all, as aimlessness can be so hard to portray, but she does so with viscious passivity. Omonua is somewhat a cypher as Synda, but comes into her own later in the show. McMeekin deserves special note for his affable willingness to do whatever is required of him by this script, and his director’s whims, and to do so gamely.

Shuck ‘n’ Jive closed its run at Soho Theatre following Saturday evening’s performance. Dirty Crusty having only just opened last Thursday, runs through 30 November at The Yard, Queen’s Yard, Hackney Wick, E9 5EN; Box Office Line is 0333 320 2896.