Mother! film review *****


Mother! 28th September 2017

What the dickens was that all about.

My guess is that director Darren Aronofsky, as with his previous films, is not entirely sure himself. And that is no bad thing. Here is a chap who seems to have a happy knack of selling multi-layered, grand, quasi-surreal psycho-dramas (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan) to a willing public on a sufficient scale to please studios and backers and keep the critics happy. Nowhere near Polanski, Hitchcock or Bunuel as film-makers yet but a sort of bastard child of these masters. Except with all the modern technology. I have griped before about Hollywood’s chronic lack of ambition, with technical wizardry and fantasy burying story-telling and ideas, but this is a criticism you can’t level as Mr Aronofsky.

The classic tropes of home invasion and horror movies pervade Mother! but this is just the starting point on to which Mr Aronofsky grafts a hulking great parable on eco-catastrophe, the agony of childlessness, the collapse of privacy and manners, the rise of Messianic populists,, the tragedy of devotion and just about any thing else that takes his fancy. Despite its mythic qualities it is eminently watchable thanks to the performances and DA’s direction, allied to the cinematography of Matthew Libatique. And it is blackly comic.

The film begins and ends with a conflagration from which emerges a crystal which I guess symbolises life (we also get a beating heart at regular intervals). The remote house in which the stories takes place is a metaphor for planet Earth. It also couldn’t look more Amityville if it tried. Javier Bardem as Him (no names here) has a bad case of poet/writer’s block. His younger wife, Jennifer Lawrence, on whom the camera spends an inordinate  amount of time, has very tastefully rebuilt his home following the fire. She wants a child – but like the next book nothing is coming. Cue a knock on the door. Surgeon Ed Harris thought it was a guest-house. He is a “bit forward” as my aunt would say but he is a “fan” of Him’s work so he gets to say. Then the wife, MIchelle Pfeiffer, pitches up and properly “makes herself at home”. Like Jennifer Lawrence you want these people out of the house sharpish but Him can’t see the problem.

Then sh*t really happens. Let’s just say DA doesn’t hold back. It is an exhilarating, if claustrophobic, ride to the apocalyptic climax. Basically Mother has had enough. I haven’t see DA’s Noah but, on the basis of this, I need to as there are, I gather, multiple parallels to be enjoyed. There are certainly great big dollops of Old and New Testament fable mashed into the madness.

I was properly perturbed by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfieffer and Javier Bardem was as convincing as he could be as this bizarre beatific character. The Gleeson brothers chew up the fragile scenery just like their Dad does – why is it that Ireland produces the greatest actors and playwrights per capita. It’s the story-telling and the Guinness I suppose. Obviously though, given the story is told through her eyes, the film only works if Jennifer Lawrence convinces and she does. BD wouldn’t see the film with me as she has no time for JL BD is rarely wrong so I must savour this rare instance of her fallibility. For Ms Lawrence plays a blinder. Just to properly creep us out I gather DA and Ms Lawrence are now an item. Old Sigmund Freud would have a field day.

You probably should see this film. An utterly indulgent mess that explodes on to the screen. I will definitely watch it again.





After the Rehearsal at the Barbican Theatre review ***


After the Rehearsal

Barbican Theatre, 28th September 2017

So what was this going to be? Another flawed, portentous (pretentious?), langourous stroll through a story which might better have been left in its original format, like Obsession here at the Barbican earlier this year in the Toneelgroep Amsterdam Residency? Or a searing, metaphysical psychodrama in the manner of A View from the Bridge? You never quite know what you are going to get from wunderkind director Ivo van Hove although in this case, given the production of After the Rehearsal and its sister play Persona, are already staples of TA’s performance repertoire, it was possible to get a pretty good idea in advance.

Now I have to confess I was not at my best on the night of this performance and probably should have stayed tucked up in bed with my fading man-flu. The draw of the theatre once again proved too strong (the addict always craves stuff like this – the theatrical equivalent of absinthe) so I made a deal with myself: watch After the Rehearsal and then duck out unless you are absolutely riveted. Well I fear I was insufficiently riveted. On the other hand there was more than enough to chew on in After the Rehearsal and, as I have come to expect from TA’s finest, the performances were marvellous.

After the Rehearsal and Persona are based on Ingmar Bergman films, the former made for TB in 1984 and the latter for the cinema in 1966 (when he had refined his technique to the bare minimum). Unsurprisingly, Bergman is one of Ivo van Hove favourite artists. A version of Scenes From A Marriage has been in the TA repertoire since 2004, Cries and Whispers since 2008 and this double bill since 2012. Mind you Bergman’s influence on European theatre (I mean them not us) has been pretty profound. His own productions were apparently as famous for how they looked as the stories they told. Bergman himself worshipped August Strindberg. Both reach deep into Swedish identity. 

In After the Rehearsal, director Hendrick Vogler (I assume Bergman himself) and young actress Anna are discussing their production of Strindberg’s A Dream Play where Anna is playing the godly Agnes. The conversation expands beyond the play taking in their views on life and the lies they tell. Vogler tries to manipulate Anna. She responds. It turns out Vogler had an affair with Anna’s mother Rachel, also an actress, and she appears in on stage (though in his mind). She is broken by drink and depression but still pulls him to pieces. When she leaves Vogler and Anna imagine a future together: is this real or constructed1?

Now as ever with Bergman there are times when you feel like it would have been a good idea for someone to put their arm around him and tell him not to worry, it might never happen. But “it” does  happen and his exploration of what goes on in our heads and how this sets the narratives we create for ourselves and how the passage of time affects our identities is as penetrating as it gets. This in turns links back to the nature of theatre. Are we always acting? What are our real selves? Who are we trying to impress? Why do we lie to ourselves and others?

The Dutch text is taut and, as in other TA productions, the act of having to read the sur-titles means the words seem to penetrate deeper. Given the fact that not much actually happens (that isn’t the point) there is an awful lot of movement on the stage and lighting, props, music and sound all inject life into the “action”. Gijs Scholten van Aschat as Vogler, (who was a brilliant Coriolanus in Roman Tragedies though looked a bit lost as Joseph in Obsession), is again a colossal, brooding presence on stage. Gaite Jansen, who is a relative newcomer to TA, presents a calculating Anna. Best of all though was Marieke Heebink as Rachel whose desperation convulsed through her entire body. I still remember her fearsomely sexual Charmian alongside Chris Nietvelt’s haughtily needy Cleopatra in Roman Tragedies.

So why wasn’t I more taken with this play. I think, once again as with Obsession (Obsession at the Barbican Theatre review ***), that the obstacle that I can’t quite get over lies in the transfer of film to stage. Bergman is full of close-ups. The Barbican stage is not. As Vogler says in this play ultimately theatre is text, actors and audience. If plot takes a back seat then character needs to come to the fore, and in a text like this I need to see right inside their heads. And I couldn’t.

Still Mr van Hove’s productions can never be ignored. Next up Network at the NT.


The Wipers Times at Richmond Theatre review **


The Wipers Times

Richmond Theatre, 27th September 2017

The Wipers Times has been knocking about for a couple of years know having morphed from the TV drama written by Ian Hislop and regular partner Nick Newman (which I didn’t see) into the play version at Newbury and then the Arts Theatre (which I missed) and now a UK tour. So off I trotted with the SO and MIL, hoping for a satirical treat.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an interesting story, the production of a newspaper for the troops in WWI, with some spirited and well drilled performances, led by James Dutton as Captain Roberts and George Kemp as Lieutenant Pearson, and a cunning set. It is just a little bit too monotone and the laughs just a little bit too lazy to really work. The voices of Ian Hislop and Nick Newman (a satirical cartoonist in his day job) come over loud and clear but, after a while, they start to grate. Mr Hislop has many fine qualities but I do find he is sometimes just a little too pleased with himself. And here it just seems that he and his partner have taken the easy way through the story rather than challenging themselves, or us the audience. I was also too often thinking of the antecedents and influences here, notably Oh What a Lovely War during the musical numbers (often brutally short) and Blackadder.

As the sarcastic one-liners bemoaning the futility of war piled up, and the Toffs and Tommies fitted neatly into their assigned roles, I was left hoping for something that might pull me up in my seat and snap me out of the faintly amused torpor into which I sank. I am afraid this didn’t come. A bit more about how these resourceful characters were able to produce the newspaper would have been interesting as would a bit more about the political context in which the newspaper operated. Some of the stiff upper lip gallows humour might have been sacrificed as might the verbatim delivery of extracts from the paper itself. A few interesting asides, for example on the Michelin Guide to the Battlefields and the perils of drunkenness on the front, were introduced but generally the narrative followed a fairly calculated arc.

I wanted to like this so much more than I did and, if your expectations are not set too high, there is enough here to make you laugh and think. Yet I was not moved and even at just a couple of hours it still felt a bit drawn out. I wasn’t alone. SO, and even the MIL who is normally a little more forgiving, were underwhelmed. Sorry. 


The Best Man at Richmond Theatre review ****


The Best Man

Richmond Theatre, 2nd October 2017

N.B. The Best Man has, as I confidently expected, found its way to the West End, to wit the Playhouse Theatre where it opens on 24th February and runs through until 12th May. Well worth a visit and not ridiculously priced, though steer clear of the Upper Circle unless you are a very small person.

Gore Vidal is very near the top of my list of invitees for that perfect dinner party. Winston Churchill, Karl Marx, Socrates, David Hume, John Rawls, Alfred the Great, Charlemagne and Nelson Mandela would be there too. (Note this is the politics bash – music, art, drama would follow in subsequent weeks if the caterers were free). He is the quintessential liberal who would be both horrified and amused, and not at all surprised for this is what he expected, by the America of today, as he was by the America of his lifetime.

In my humble opinion he is one of the greatest novelists of the second half of the C20. Whether it be his novels examining the nature of sexuality, The City and the Pillar, Myra Breckenridge or Myron, the fantastical satires of Messiah, Kalki or Duluth, the ancient histories such as Creation and Julian or the American histories of Burr, 1876, Lincoln, Empire, Hollywood, Washington DC and The Golden Age, there is stunning prose and visible erudition on show on every page. Best of all though these are page-turning stories, whether “fact”, fiction or a mixture of the two, with utterly believable characters. (real or imagined). Indeed I would say that the fact that his novels are overflowing with plot is one of the reasons why he is not as highly regarded as he should be – they are just not as hard work as the US cultural elite of the 1950s and 1960s would have liked. Moreover GV himself was the very antithesis of the macho artistic and literary culture of that era. He also chose to p*ss off most of the literary, artistic and political establishment in his native US with his barbed epigrams and constant feuding. Here was a man who thought he was better than everyone around him, because he was better than everyone around him.

Being the very clever fellow he was he turned his hand to screenplays as well as novels and brilliant essays, with one of his best works for film being the re-write of Ben-Hur, in which he mugged off Charlton Heston who seemingly failed to grasp the homosexual sub-text of the movie. He also wrote a handful of very fine plays which reflect the concerns of his novels. The Best Man which premiered in 1960, and was made into a film in 1964, is the most often revived I believe.

So, as you might imagine, I was very pleased when I heard about this latest production since I don’t think this has ever graced a major London (I know, technically Surrey) stage. A very strong cast has been assembled by impresario Bill Kenwright with Simon Evans entrusted with directorial duties after his smashing Arturo Ui at the Donmar (The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at the Donmar Warehouse review ****), Alligators at the Hampstead and the exceptional trilogy of miserabilism, Bug, The Dazzle and Fool for Love, at the now defunct Found 111. The liberal, middle classes masses of Windsor, Brighton, Bath and Cambridge have had, or will have, a chance to see The Best Man before, I assume, a West End run.

And you should see it. Every word of every line is as fresh as the day GV wrote it. It is, I admit, locked in its time and place, two hotel rooms at an imagined Democratic convention in the early 1960’s, but this does not mean the issues that GV raises about political culture are not as relevant today as they were then. Simon Evans and designer Michael Taylor have very wisely stuck exactly to the period of the play’s action, and use simple devices to switch between the two rooms.

Martin Shaw, commanding as ever with his gravelly voice and still demeanour, plays Secretary of State William Russell. His rival for the nomination is Senator Joseph Cantwell, a remarkablly bullish performance from Hollywood veteran Jeff Fahey. These two legends of the screen have a bit of form together having played good guy/bad guy before in the London stage version of 12 Angry Men a few years ago. Then, as now, they are perfectly cast as dualistic political opposites. Russell is the archetypal “good’ liberal politician who believes there are limits to what can, and should be done, on the road to power. Cantwell believes nothing should get in his way and is prepared to abandon truth in order to get want he wants. As I think Russell observes in the play there is very little idealogical difference between the two (GV despaired of the lack of real choice in American politics). It is the how, not the what, that distinguishes the political complexion of these two men.

Russell is a philanderer but his wife Alice, another fine performance from Glynis Barber, is prepared to stand by him in public on the road to Democratic nomination and potentially the White House. Mabel Cantwell, played by Honeysuckle Weeks with a little too much of the Southern Belle which made a few lines difficult to follow, is a more “old-fashioned” wife. It would be nice to think that, near 60 years on, these characters would look archaically sexist. Unfortunately I am not so sure they do.

We then have the mighty Jack Shepherd as the Trumanesque Art Hockstader, the outgoing President, whose homespun country boy public persona is matched by ruthless scheming behind the scenes. You may well know Mr Shepherd as Wycliffe off the telly but he can still command a stage, and caper about, even in his late70s. Our cast is completed by Gemma Jones as Mrs Gamadge, the harridan of the Democrat ladies, Anthony Howell and Jim Creighton as respective advisors and Emma Campbell-Jones, Simon Hepworth, Ian Houghton, Craig Pinder and David Tarkenter as the press, various senators and delegates and a pair of accessories for when the fight between our two nominees gets really dirty.

I will refrain from delving into the detail of the plot: suffice to say there was enough of a twisting narrative to keep the pensioners of Richmond on the edge of their seats as we moved through the various paybacks in the second half. As I say GV couldn’t help but write great stories, and he was, after all, a Democrat insider. The characters here are not particularly well hidden proxies for the 1960 Democratic nominees, with Russell as Adlai Stevenson who GV supported, and the Cantwells as the Kennedys, who were oft the subject of GV’s barbs. GV also uses thinly veiled episodes from the life of Joseph McCarthy to inform Joe Cantwell. Subtle it ain’t.

Whilst some of the historic specificity might be lost on a contemporary GB audience the moral arguments which flow from GV’s caustic wit will not. The play is very funny, (OK maybe I laughed a bit more than some), but this does not mask the seriousness of the messages about political culture. There were a couple of timing issues at the performance I attended, (with the SO who has stamped her approval on the endeavour), and a brisker pace might have paid dividends in the second half of Act 1, but all in all, this is a very fine production, with a very fine cast, of a very fine play by a very fine writer.

Highly recommended. And make sure you read some GV thereafter.



Doubt, A Parable at the Southwark Playhouse review ***


Doubt, A Parable

Southwark Playhouse, 26th September 2017

Once again a review of a play whose run is over. Apologies. This revival of Doubt, A Parable, by US playwright JP Shanley, was efficiently directed by Che Walker, but turned out to be a little slighter in form and content than I had expected. Its original premiere on Broadway in 2005 led to 4 Tony Awards in that year and the award of the Pulitzer Prize for drama. A film version from 2008, which I had not seen, sported the combined talents of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davies.

So I had expected big things. And, whilst this is a taut and intelligent exploration of a vital story, which offers scope for fine performances, I was a little disappointed at the strict naturalism of the play, its basic structure and its lack of multiple perspectives. The play is set in St Nicholas Church School in the Bronx in 1964. Father Brendan Flynn played by Jonathan Chambers is an apparently caring and popular progressive parish priest. Arch conservative Sister Aloysius, a suitably flinty Stella Gonet, is the school principal and is concerned that Father Flynn may be abusing his position. She invocates the younger Sister James (a wide eyed Clare Latham) to assist her in confirming her suspicions. They confront Flynn. His denial prompts Aloysius to turn to the mother of Donald Muller, the supposed victim, but she chooses to look the other way. Sister Aloysius refuses to relent and engineers a ruse which eventually pushes Father Flynn out, but through promotion to another school.

We never know whether or not Father Flynn is guilty of the abuse and JP Shanley’s text is meticulous in the way it creates doubt in our minds, as well as the four characters, throughout the 90 minute piece. The confrontations, between the two Sisters, Father Flynn and the Sisters, individually and together, between Sister Aloysius and Mrs Muller, and very well constructed and the language rings true. The sermons that Flynn delivers, on doubt at the outset, and later on gossip, are also sound theatrical devices to advance argument.

Yet it still all felt just a little predictable with characters that were just a little stilted. The tone of the play, exacerbated, by PJ McEvoy’s dark, shadowy set which imagines the space between the school and church buildings, is appropriately stifling but this does make the whole production a little one-paced. Mind you the performances of all four actors were admirable especially Stella Gonet who powerfully rendered Sister Aloysius’s external certainty and internal doubt and Jo Martin (last seen by me in the excellent Rolling Stone at The Orange Tree) who persuaded us why Mrs Muller might be prepared to overlook the possible abuse of her son, who is the only African-American in the school, “in his own interests”.

This a play that is definitely worth seeing as it adroitly explores the issue of abuse within the Catholic Church and it is a fine text, which, as all good theatre should do, embraces ambiguity and interpretation. By leaving us guessing however, to up the dramatic ante, it leaves rather too many loose ends to be truly great I think.

The Judas Passion at St John’s Smith Square review ***


Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment, Nicholas McGegan, Brenden Gunnell, Roderick Williams, Mary Bevan, Choir of the OAE

St John’s Smith Square, 25th September 2017

The Judas Passion is a new work commissioned by the OAE and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra San Francisco, and was composed by Sally Beamish with a libretto by David Harsent. Now I had not heard any of Ms Beamish’s works before, though she is an eminent modern British composer, but this felt like an “event”, so I decided that my presence lurking in the back was required. The convenience of an hour long piece starting at 7pm was also an attraction.

Now new Passions to match the heights reached by JS Bach are few on the ground. Commissions of liturgal works are perforce limited and few composers are likely to have the desire or the belief to engage in such an exercise. Which is a shame because when they do, as with Penderecki’s St Luke Passion or, better still, Part’s Passio, it can bring forth transcendent music. And this from a committed atheist.

The Judas Passion was doubly interesting because of the way librettist David Harsent (a poet who has written libretto’s for Sir Harrison Birtwhistle’s major operas) chose to set out the Passion story. It is told from Judas’s perspective and shows him not as the customary dastardly villain but as a man who is chosen, and forgiven, by Christ to act as he did. The simple, but very affecting libretto, explores this idea with single parts for Judas (American tenor Brendan Gunnell), Jesus (baritone Roderick WIlliams) and Mary Magdalene (soprano Mary Bevan) who acts as a sort of narrator. The disciples create the chorus as well as a part for an interchangeable God/Devil to emphasise the duality of Judas’s motives.

All round the singing was very fine, but I was particularly struck by Mary Bevan who lent a melancholy to her lines which was fitting. She is playing the lead in Coraline, Mark-Antony Turnage’s new opera, which is on my to see list. The score is terse which fits the drama and largely taken at a moderate pace with a couple of more energetic episodes. The tone is deliberately Baroque (with harpsichord and lute alongside strings, flutes, natural horns and occasional trumpets) with many canonic and fugal nods to JS Bach and a barrage of more or less interesting percussive effects. The singers were lightly choreographed by stage director Peter Thomson (with not a lot of stage to play with) which definitely heightened the performance for me.

I am not sure how the score would stand up as a recording or in a large concert hall. However, as a chamber “opera”, redolent of Britten’s Church Parables, with costume and movement, I think it would be extremely effective. Words, music and action together tell an involving story, with a bold perspective which draws on more than just the Biblical gospels. A true Passion I suppose.

Rachel Whiteread at Tate Britain review *****


Rachel Whiteread

Tate Britain, 25th September 2017

If you take even a passing interest in contemporary British art you are probably aware of Rachel Whiteread, and you may well have seen some of her work. Even if you are not interested, or are firmly in the nihilistic, hater camp that thinks this is all bollocks (a diminishing minority I am pleased to say), you will have heard of her. In the early 1990’s the “popular” press got it another one of their pathetic lathers about her work House, in East London, which helped her win the Turner Prize. The “controversy” was then comically ratcheted up as Tower Hamlets council proceeded to knock it down, thereby getting us arty-farty, liberal types in a tizz. Thus proving the whole point of public art – engagement.

You might also remember her project Monument for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, a resin cast of the very plinth on which it is set. A perfect transparent mirror image. I seem to recall it was one of the more loved of the commissions in this most public of locations, but that might just be me.

You are also likely then to be aware of her making process which generally involves complex casting in a wealth of materials at a range of scales. Her chosen subjects are normally mundane, sinks, bog rolls, windows, doors, even rooms and buildings, but what she achieves is mesmerising.

For me this exhibition is a must see. It encompasses some her earliest work from the years following the Slade through to the exhilarating resin casts of doors and windows from the last few years. I gather she started as a painter but shifted to sculpture thanks to Richard Wilson. Thank goodness for that. Mr Wilson is concerned with with the nature of architectural space, and with creating striking ways of seeing this space, and it is pretty straightforward to read the thread through to Ms Whiteread. If you ever get a chance go see 20:50, Richard Wilson’s installation of sump oil. It will take your breath away. Or if you turn up early for some gig or other entertainment at the 02 walk east along the river until you see a bit of ship otherwise know as Slice of Reality. Or look out for Square the Block at the bottom of Kingsway or stop for a moment to admire the giant “wing”, Slipstream, before you enter the purgatory of Heathrow’s Terminal 2.

Sorry back to RW. I think Closet is the earliest work in the room (the gallery has been opened up to encompass all the works in the exhibition). This is a plaster cast of the interior of a wardrobe encased in felt. No immediate aesthetic attraction for me but it opens up the possibilities that RW has subsequently mined from the idea of “negative space”. That is the space around and, more importantly, inside the subject. Often explored in two dimensional images through the Modern age but less so in sculpture (though Bruce Naumann and other US minimalists/conceptualists had kicked off the exploration). Obviously casting is a fundamental part of the sculptural process but as a means to an end not usually the end. And this is what makes RW so important and interesting, especially when compared to other British artists of her generation who are a little more “shouty” and a little less insightful than RW in more opinion.

Next door to Closet is a plaster cast of a dressing table which is more interesting, as not only does the material itself have more appeal to me, the stimulus to eyes and brain as you try to unravel the “reversal” of the space gives far more pleasure. This carries through to the rest of the early works” sinks, baths, beds and furniture. They both are, and are not, what they purport to be.

Around the corner is a vitrine of 9 hot water bottles (and similarly shaped objects like enema bags!), another common subject for RW, and here we see the dimension that the variation in materials brings, resin, plaster, aluminium, wax, concrete and rubber. These are termed Torsos. A seemingly obvious process, with seemingly obvious subjects and seemingly obvious materials is transmuted into an homage to classical sculpture and the Renaissance masters who worshipped their forebears. There is also something of the womb about them. So we see the “concept’ become the subject and finally the object. Absolutely thrilling. Trust me.

In Room 101 and the floorboards cast in resin next to it further dimensions of RW’s art are revealed. Room 101 is a plasticised plaster cast of a room in BBC Broadcasting House where George Orwell worked and which was allegedly the inspiration for the eponymous space in 1984. So lots to chew on there in addition to the effect of the reversal of the space on a much larger scale than other subjects in the exhibition. Whilst there is a cast, Chicken Shed, in the garden in front of the Tate, and we have materials relating to the planning of RW’s more monumental outdoor works (definitely read up on these) ,we can only imagine what they look like but Room 101 helps. Next door the light falling on the resin floorboards emphasises the grain of the wood with every mark, scratch and knot evidence of time passing.

Nearby there is another fascinating large scale work in a cast of some library bookshelves. The detail of the pages from the books is intriguing as the spines are positioned inwards on shelves. So the shelves turn the knowledge inwards but we are not shut out. Imagine this on a much larger scale. That would be a sight to behold. And that is why I want to see the Holocaust Memorial or Nameless Library in Vienna which is exactly that.

The coloured objects and boxes along the back wall and far corner (relative to the entrance) of the exhibition room are less successful in my view, (along with the papier mache architectural fragments where are definition and detail is lost). Turning toilet roll cardboard tubes into things of rare chalky beauty is a masterly achievement, but, overall, the “fact” of the process, and any beauty in the form and function of the object (in contrast to the architectural subjects), is less visible to me. These pieces were produced after RW had completed Embankment for the Tate Modern Turbine Hall which had a mixed public and critical response I understand. I never saw it so can’t comment but the photographic record, conjuring up an ice palace, looks pretty groovy to me.

In contrast the mighty cast Untitled (Stairs) is exactly that, mighty. Like the floors on show the wear and tear of use sing out, but the reversal of the space is somehow less interesting, or maybe too familiar from the works of Escher and others. This is not true though of the wall of doors and windows, the most recent works, and for me the very best of RW’s work on show here. There are just beautiful. Especially the coloured resin casts. Seeing “through” the windows echoes their purpose. I couldn’t take my eyes off the resin doors, especially the two “antique” subjects from the C17 and C18 century, with the light casting shadows and reflections through on to the wall behind them. Mind you I do like old doors.

So when you finally tear yourself from these works, pass through the room of works by other artists curated by RW, which show the association with other British conceptual sculptors of an earlier vintage who also weren’t prepared to sacrifice aesthetic appeal in their work. RW has followed a clear and identifiable artistic journey but the link bank to the first generation of US minimalists and US/UK conceptualists is strong.

Then make sure to see Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) in the solemn Duveen Gallery. 100 coloured resin casts of the “internal” space of little side tables arranged in, I think, random order. Like tiny sentinels, ice cubes, soaps, sweets or children’s toys. A “terracotta army” of plastic. A New York panorama. The pastel colours echo the use of plastic in modern consumer goods. Yet the colours are faded, the opacity compromised, creating an air of melancholy. Sad, baby tables. Or rather the insides of sad, baby tables. I think I better stop there.

The exhibition goes on to 21st January next year. If a quick glance at pictures of her work leaves you cold then maybe you are excused (though I still think you are missing out) but if you have even the vaguest interest please check this out. The best exhibition in London this year (so far)? For me yes. If you crave colour, emotion, passion then this may not cut it. If you like simplicity, volume. form, function, detail – if you are in touch with your inner ascetic – then pop on your sharpest threads (all black was a favoured look on my visit) and get down to Millbank.

PS. I note on Wiki that Ms Whiteread spent a little time working at Highgate Cemetery fixing lids on time damaged coffins. I cannot think of work that would have bettered informed her art.