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Verdict: Sexy, graceful, unpeeling of enigma
Edinburgh 04 - Café Royal
Sketching Lucian exposes - perhaps - the thoughts of a remarkable painter. It's light drama from a cast of six, and lasts an hour.
Lucian Freud (b 1922) seldom talks about himself - so little is known about his thoughts. Sketching Lucian works from the paintings and known facts - and spins a fiction that may be true.
The old curmudgeon may not complain too much: he certainly comes across as fun. Apt for the foremost British investigator of nakedness, there's a high acreage of nudity.
A fair amount of this comes from the beautiful and magnificently-proportioned Paula Benson. She presents a stunning characterisation of the outrageous performance artist Leigh Bowery.
No penis? As Paula Benson's Leigh Bowery explains: 'I've done a tuck-and-tape job to suggest a hairy canary' / 'Like myself, Lucian's only interested in the underbelly of things.'
Freud was taught by Francis Bacon - here brought to life in a tart, arch, camp, funny, perceptive and vigorous performance by Thomas Ryan.
A tall and handsome man, Thomas Ryan deftly creates his own Bacon, blending caricature with a sensitive undertone of the man's pathos and contradictions. 'Who could I tear to pieces but my friends?' he reflects, on an artist's choice of subject. 'If they were not my friends, how could I do such violence to them?'
The 1950s friendship of Bacon and Freud is celebrated in several paintings, and forms a central engine to the play.
They open Sketching Lucian together with super-camp exaggerated dialogue. They paint each other, argue and banter - revealing themselves, and their inspirations.
Their final quarrel is mirrored in a later drinking scene in Muriel Belcher's Colony Room. Both are dressed as women: Bacon as Madge (á la Dame Edna Everage), Freud as Jean, waited on by Leigh Bowery.
James Thomas, as Lucian Freud, is sometimes the subject of the scene - the other characters talking to him as they pose for him; or about him to each other.
Sometimes he's outside, observing: 'The harder we concentrate, the more what's in one's head starts coming out' / 'The artist's studio - the heart's rag-and-bone shop'.
James Thomas's subtle footwork and the pose of his body catches the relaxation, concentration and tension of the artist observing his subjects when the drama's focus is on them. This 'off-duty' acting is as character-revealing as the scenes in which James Thomas plays Lucian Freud as the focus.
The quiet, authoriative tone of James Thomas's voice - coupled subtly with the suggestion of occasional uncertainty - seem exactly right for this version of Lucian Freud, matching the character's complexities.
There are tableaux of Freud's paintings. 5-group Large Interior W 11 (after Watteau) 1981-1983 comes near the start. Four characters sit together clothed, a fifth lies at their feet, naked in a shift. They play 'I Spy'. They bitch and gossip about and to Freud, who observes - detached, occasionally amused.
For Leigh Bowery & Nicola Bateman Posing for 'And The Husband' (Paula Benson, Delia Remy), Bowery & Bateman lie naked together on a bed.
Paula Benson's Bowery sends up the whole process with outrageous body gestures and funny vulgarity. It's mirrored in her separate Leigh Bowery - Nude With Leg Up.
Freud leaps on naked Bowery's back and rides - a clever scene looking at Freud's sexuality and sexual relationship with his sitters. It uses the ambiguity of actor and character cleverly - because while Leigh Bowery was a man of complex sexuality, actor Paula Benson is a strongly feminine woman.
Freud's out of his kit - but into his boots - for Self Portrait 1993. It's the climax of an intimate scene of mental self-examination - with a strong emotional impact.
Terri Pace plays many parts. As the reclining partly-naked figure in 5-group Large Interior W 11 (after Watteau), she replaces the original's small child. It's not misplaced - she is able to bring a shocking vulnerability to her charactisations, and it's present in this brief scene.
Terri Pace's major role is Lucian Freud's Mother - a woman he painted several times. Terri Pace's impish and waspish delivery of Freud's Mother has a lot of Eric Idle (in his various old-lady incarnations) about her - complete with handbag as potential weapon. There's a battery of pugnacious remarks in store for her son - and his sitters: 'You realise you are all his whores'.
Delia Remy, the actress with (today) very long hair, plays Lucian Freud's daughter Alice (and other characters). Alice's observations about her father painting her illuminate, and Delia Remy gives these great poignancy.
Delia Remy's ability to show support, pride, pity and love in her character towards the father are moving - at times heartbreakingly so. It's an endearing performance that reaches deep under the skin of the role. As various of Freud's models, she subtly turns the role of subject - by her reactions and demeanour - into a mirror of the artist. It's powerful acting with a strong emotional impact.
Caroline Norton has a range of characters, majoring on daughter Bella. With Delia Remy's Alice, she creates sister-scenes of real charm - evoking playfulness and that easy-going love that glues families. Caroline Norton has a fine ability with facial expression and pose, to suggest the subtle nuances of feeling a complex character like Freud must evoke in those close to him.
There's a natural humour that infects Caroline Norton's performances, especially brought in a set of fine ensemble pieces spoofing pretentious art-lovers. And she has a gifted reach for the underlining of humanity that lifts her Alice to a high emotional plane.
Director Mike Miller creates in Sketching Lucian a powerful - an exceptionally powerful - play. Drama about art can invite pretention. Mike Miller avoids the temptation. It's high-art, at times it's high-camp. But there's not a dull or wanky edge to it, nor a moment of boredom. It's crisp and brisk. And it entertains.
Writer Alison Trower creates an outstanding script. The title is exact - her script has a set of sketch scenes showing facets of Freud. They lock together like the components of a dream.
Alison Trower's dialogue works intriguingly. Though making exact sense as speech, the sentences combine to work directly on the subconcious - as if they were music. This is reinforced by Mike Miller's excellent soundscape (Michael Nyman, Chopin, Mendelsohn, Philip Glass) to create extremely complex emotional moods.
There's a thumping erotic charge to Lucian Freud's work and - as a man with at least 16 known children - life. Alison Trower's script dives into the sex with relish.
It's writing packed with the erotic - full-on in parts, peeping out of corners in others - expressed with sensitivity, vulgarity, underscored with grace.
Full of humanity, full of warmth, it's a delight from a remarkable writer. And humour: Lucian Freud to a group of models in a semi-dream sequence: 'You're still here, so I'm not alone. Nice tits!'
Cast Credits (alpha order): Paula Benson - Leigh Bowery. Caroline Norton - Bella. Terri Pace - Lucian Freud's Mother. Delia Remy - Alice. Thomas Ryan - Francis Bacon. James Thomas - Lucian Freud.
Company Credits: Writers - Mike Miller & Alison Trower. Director & Soundscape - Mike Miller. Company - TheATRE He, Mme, mm, mm.
reviewed Sunday 25 July 04 / Lang Gallery
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