A VICTORIAN EYE
by Rory Fellowes.
Jermyn Street Theatre 16b Jermyn Street SW1Y 6SX To 17 August 2013.
Mon–Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3.30 pm.
Runs 1hr 15min No interval.
TICKETS: 0207 287 2875.
Review: William Russell 31 July.
An Old Master Remembers.
William Blake Richmond RA (1842-1921) , the subject of this one man play written by Rory Fellowes, was a celebrated Victorian portrait painter of the great and the good from William Morris to Bismarck; he fell out of fashion in the early years of the last century.
We find the old man in his Chiswick studio in 1921 reflecting on his long career, the failure to find favour of, what he considered his greatest artistic achievement, the mosaics which decorate the choir and apse of St Paul’s Cathedral, and how his style of painting fell victim to the arrival of artists like Matisse and Picasso.
It makes an interesting enough evening, although quite why Fellowes thought this life story worth turning into a play is a mystery. It would make a good colour supplement article – with illustrations, but it is not the stuff of drama. As it is, the old man, rather unconvincingly played in a dreadful wig by Nigel Dunbar, drops names, – Richmond knew everybody who was somebody in the Victorian art world – talks to his ghosts, especially Gaetano Meo, his old studio assistant, and argues forcefully that artists must first of all learn to draw, which he clearly thought the Impressionists could not do.
Not that Dunbar’s performance is bad, just that he looks and sounds too young. Beneath that wig lurks a middle aged man. He never manages, fluent though he is, to create the octogenarian Richmond, who, as he reminisces, starts to pack up his studio, covering the paintings with dustsheets and in effect wrapping up his own life. It is undeniably touching at the end and Fellowes has created a perfectly good monologue even if it is not particularly exciting. The worst thing that happened to Richmond, distinguished once upon a time, was to fall out of fashion. He became a Royal Academician in 1895, was knighted in 1897, and was Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy for years.
Designer Tim Dann has created a splendid studio setting, all clutter and confusion, and Maureen Payne-Hahner’s direction is assured, but it all seems rather pointless.
Sir William Blake Richmond: Nigel Dunbar.
Director: Maureen Payne- Hahner.
Designer: Tim Dann.
Lighting: David Kidd.0
Costume: Lyn Avery.