A review by Carmen Nasr for EXTRA! EXTRA!



Georgina Ratnatunga in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre presents




by William Douglas Home


Directed by Alex Marker


Finborough Theatre


7-22 August 2011


The long and drawn out hours of observation and artistic meditation shared by a painter and his sitter, is more likely to bring to mind aching limbs than opportunity for captivating dramatic material. However, my scepticism it seems may have been down to a lack of imagination, as the Finborough Theatre’s slow paced portrayal of artist Augustus John makes for stimulating viewing.

Alongside the great gush of public tributes to the life and work of Britain’s foremost portrait artist Lucian Freud upon his recent death, ran a smaller yet more insightful stream of intimate homage from those who had sat for the artist. This private world between painter and sitter, it began to emerge, was a space in which mutual observation allowed both parties, with painstaking slowness, to create a portrait of each other. And it is through this removed and discreet world that another of Britain’s most celebrated portrait artists is bestowed with a theatrical portrait of his own.

Described by some as the ‘king of bohemia’, Augustus John was an artist who garnered admiration from his peers and the ruling elite while maintaining a rather anarchic existence. Heavy drinking, an infamous ménage à trios and romantic claims of gypsy heritage have created a lasting legacy of a truly adventurous spirit. In Portraits, playwright William Douglas Home constructs a portrayal of the last two decades of the artist’s life (1944-1961) through a reconstruction of three separate sittings with three very different subjects. An unhurried study of the intricacies of this ritual, the play charts the artist’s gradual devotion to an almost obsessive pacifism.

With the tiny Finborough stage transformed into a little slice of typical modernist shabby-bohemian elegance, resident designer Alex Marker makes his professional directorial debut with this mature and thoughtful production. Although at times repetitive and somewhat drawn out, the dialogue makes up for this with buckets of intelligent and classically derisive English wit.

Leading the production as Augustus John himself Peter Marinker’s portrayal of the tortured artist lives up to the powerful presence that such a bold cultural figure naturally demands, while simultaneously delivering a moving fragility of both mind and body. Kristin Milward as the artist’s long suffering muse and equally bohemian partner ‘dodo’ is a poignant picture of the painful realities of loyalty and devotion.
Stealing the show however in the triple role of General Bernard Montgomery, artist Matthew Smith and designer/photographer Cecil Breton, Hayward Morse plays all three sitters with equal conviction and elegance - a performance in a class of its own.

A sophisticated exploration into the trauma prevalent in a post World War society and its role in shaping our nation’s art and cultural thinking, Portraits is a piece that taps into the meditative potential of theatre. A play as much about the sorrows of old age as its virtues, it quietly celebrates the often neglected, yet terribly intriguing autumn of an artist’s life.



Box office: 0844 847 1652
Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED
7:30 pm Sun & Mon
£13/£9 Concession

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