Tag Archives: history

Miss Wilson’s Waterloo – Finborough Theatre

For a play billed as a rehearsed reading, the small-but-perfectly-formed Finborough Theatre certainly do pull out a good few stops. There is music, a simple set comprised of a small table and chairs, some lighting and sound, and two actors dressed to give a feel for the mid-19th century period setting – far more than I was expecting. But Miss Wilson’s Waterloo – a development of Martin Wimbush’s earlier play, Wellington – is still very much a work in progress.

Produced to coincide with the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, this is a series of conversations between the Duke of Wellington (Martin Wimbush) and Harriette Wilson, interspersed with flashbacks to events involving the many women in his life. All the women are played by the very versatile Karen Archer. While they may be holding their scripts, the two actors bring life and vigour to the words and move about the stage with purpose – this could very easily be a rehearsal just before ‘books down’.

Wimbush makes for a varied Wellington, depending on which woman he’s with. He plays the whimsical buffoon as he prepares for the arrival of his grandchildren (with a touch of Boris Johnson about him) but is also a rapacious flirt and a masterful army commander. Archer deftly switches between the witty and coquettish Harriette and her other characters, each scene demarcated by a change in the lighting (simple yet effective). She creates a very feline and calculating Kitty Pakenham, the droll and supercilious Duchess of Richmond, and breathy, young ingenue Mary Ann Jervis.

My ticket was courtesy of Bargain Theatre. To read the review in full, please click here.

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The Pitmen Painters – Lee Hall (Duchess Theatre)

pitmen

It has to be said that The Pitmen Painters is something of an art and history lesson rolled into one.  Written by Lee Hall – most famous for writing the movie Billy Elliot and the subsequent West End musical – The Pitmen Painters is based on the true story of the miners who hired a professor to teach them art appreciation and quickly abandoned theory in favour of practise, painting the life that they knew.  Although the original collective numbered more than 30 men, that has been scaled down to 5 distinct personalities for theatrical purposes.

Set in Ashington in the north of England in 1934, life is tough, work is scarce and money is tight – and yet this play opens with great humour and warmth as the men bicker amongst themselves about what art is, the hidden meanings in paintings, and the rules by which they must abide if the class is to take place at all.

Led by the bureaucratic George (Joe Caffrey) who had quite a remarkable ability to turn his face almost purple with each vitriolic rant about anything from the plugging in of a projector to the immorality of accepting money for their paintings, the group consists of Oliver (Trevor Fox), Jimmy (David Whitaker), Harry (Michael Hodgson) and George’s nephew (Brian Lonsdale) and their esteemed teacher, Robert Lyon (Ian Kelly).  The cast is completed by life model Susan Parks (Joy Brook) who seems determined to take her clothes off and art collector Helen Sutherland (Joy Brook) a keen admirer of modern art and raw talent.

The men begin with simple lino cuttings and slowly move on to painting, each developing his own style.  Amongst the pacy lines and hilarious dialogue, there are some very poignant moments, particularly when Oliver (the most talented of the group) struggles to come to terms with his new-found ability and Trevor Fox plays this with great depth and subtlety; he has grown to love painting but does not consider it to be an honest day’s work – he comes from a long line of pitmen and even when he’s offered a weekly wage to paint full-time, he fears leaving behind the only life he has ever known.

I am always in awe of any actor who can multi-task; it is one thing to learn lines, develop a character and follow stage directions – it is quite another to do a chalk/charcoal sketch live on stage that so closely mimics the original it is based on (shown on a screen above the stage), whilst still continuing with a scene of dialogue as though this were the most natural thing in the world.  I was completely spellbound – Ian Kelly, I take my hat off to you.

 

The Pitmen Painters is at The Duchess Theatre, Catherine Street, Aldwych, WC2B 5LA and is currently booking until Saturday, April 14, 2012

Contains some strong language – suitable for ages 10+

http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/66843/productions/the-pitmen-painters.html