Encounter drawings at the National Portrait Gallery review ***


The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt

National Portrait Gallery, 7th September 2017

Short, sweet and eclectic. The exhibition of 50 or so portrait drawings at the NPG contains works by some of the greatest draughtsmen revered by art history from the Renaissance and Baroque, but blink and you might miss them.

Now drawings from masters are rare treasures indeed, either being disposed once the work for which they were prepared having been completed or having suffered through the vicissitudes of time. So it is always welcome to get a chance to have a good long peek. We get a quick overview of the process of drawing at the outset and the survey covers a range of media; chalks, charcoal, pastel, ink, metalpoint. There are a series of 8 Holbein sketches from the Queen’s collection, (which were full of life in a way I had not anticipated), a wall of fine drawings from the Carraccis with 4 I think from Annibale, courtesy of the Chatsworth collection, a couple of dashing young men from sculptor Bernini, some exquisite little heads from Rembrandt, a preparatory sketch of a toff from Durer, a Rubens, a van Dyck, a Pisanello, a Pontormo, a Parmigianino, a muscle man from Leonardo and a partridge in a pear tree (I may have made the last bit up).

My highlights were the Head of an Old Woman by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo’s teacher, in metal-point with white shading on some sort of orange paper, a curly-haired youth also in metal-point on grey paper from Benozzo Gozzoli, (he of the fancy and perfectly preserved frescos in the Magi Chapel in the Palazzo Medeci-Riccardi in Florence), and the final drawing another Old Woman in a ruff and cap attributed to Jacob Jordaens.

So if this is your bag then well worth a detour but for us generalists I wonder if there may not be quite enough here to make this a must see. Sacrilege for some I suspect but your time might be better spent focussing on a part of the National Gallery next door (not forgetting to hand over a few quid for that privilege).




Cat On a Hit Tin Roof at the Apollo Theatre review ***


Cat On a Hot Tin Roof

Apollo Theatre, 13th September 2017

Hmm. I was expecting so much more of this production. It’s Tennessee Williams. An all star cast. The imprimatur of the Young Vic. And Benedict Andrews, who was responsible for the, by all accounts, revelatory A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic, is directing, with the help of a top notch creative team.

To be fair, in large part, it delivered. The motives, pain, frustrations and jealousies of the characters were laid bare. In particular I liked (slightly against my expectation) Sienna Miller’s Maggie whose breezy confidence and famously catty (doh) put-downs belied her internal mortification. Lisa Palfrey (last seen by me in the excellent Junkyard) perfectly captured Big Mama’s desperate optimism, especially in the face of the revelation of Big Daddy’s diagnosis. Rising star Hayley Squires (so emotionally powerful in I, Daniel Blake) embraced Mae’s grasping with vigour shoving her fertility into Maggie’s face. When Brian Gleeson finally got the chance to let rip, as Gooper’s mask slips, we saw what a fine actor he is. Colm Meaney’s Big Daddy was moreorless on the money, but I wasn’t entirely persuaded by his key scene with Brick, and his accent left me straining to hear on a few occasions, (and for once I hadn’t been a skinflint so was in prime position). Big Daddy should bully everything in his orbit, inanimate as well as animate.

Which brings me to Jack O’Connell’s Brick. Other than his performance in This is England I don’t really know Mr O’Connell, but I can see the intent behind his casting. Brooding yes, intense yes, self loathing yes, but I am not sure he fully inhabits Brick’s vulnerability. This is not a easy character to play but there are, in the angry exchanges with Maggie and Big Daddy, enough lines to create a more ambiguous character than was offered here. In fact overall I was not as persuaded as I would have liked to be by the interaction between the characters. Tennessee Williams’s poetry gives ample opportunity for the main protagonists to project their inner demons but this has to work as a whole and this dynamic fell a little short for me. All this deception, of self and each other, all this conflict, has to weave together.

This was compounded by the set and design of the production. Taking the action out of the historical specificity of the mid 1950s Mississippi Delta plantation was brave, but a little foolhardy I believe. The brushed metal panelling which surrounded the bright space may have suggested sun, heat and, the blindingly obvious, gold, but opened up the stage, when claustrophobia might serve better to convey the stench of death and decay which haunts this play. Tennessee Williams plays work so well because of the language he gifts to his damaged people but also because he simultaneously shines a light on the society in which they are trapped, here a world of immense wealth built originally on the immense cruelty of slavery. This wasn’t really visible in this production. And sticking Jack O”Connell and eventually Sienna Miller in the buff certainly renders explicit the theme of repressed desire but Mr William’s words are just as effective. Mind you they are both mightily beautiful.

Now I feel like I am carping a bit. I would not put any one off seeing this production in the remaining weeks. It is just that with this company, with this director and this cast taking on this C20 masterpiece, I expected a winner. Still onwards and upwards.