by Jeremy Green.
Arcola Theatre (Arcola 1) 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 21 December 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 December.
A fine lifelike portrait of a woman among the artists.
Suffering for your art’s one thing; suffering for someone else’s quite another. Which is what Lizzie Siddal did as she lay in cold water, when the heaters went out while Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais painted her for the watery death of Ophelia.
Lizzie, as she lay growing chillier, never said a word. Which is what another Pre-Raphaelite tells Jeremy Green’s Lizzie to do as this play starts. Like Victorian children, artists’ models are to be seen but not heard.
But Lizzie eventually speaks out, when she falls in love with the ambitiously-named Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whose behaviour has neither Dante-like devotion nor any angelic quality. It’s influential art critic John Ruskin who tries most to help Lizzie; he and the head of a Sheffield art-school. But neither her own painting, nor her life, can survive love’s disappointments. And the gap between painterly ideals and behaviour becomes most marked at the end, when even Lizzie’s corpse can’t be left in peace.
Storytelling comes close to being clumsy in places, yet strangely the impact is involving. As consequences aren’t always followed through, or important elements of the action arise from nowhere to be explained later the process of understanding draws us further towards Lizzie’s predicament.
However articulate she is, however confident she grows, there’s always the sense of a male Victorian society ready to snap back. Notably, the only other female seen is the earthier model Annie, and she can only try to make her way through sexual blackmail.
This is a play which doesn’t set out to startle, but to let its story make its own impact. It doesn’t belong to any style or school of writing, but conscientiously crafts an interesting sidelight on art history and the relations of painters and models, progressively drawing an audience into its well-drawn world.
Though none of this would happen without a set of strong, reliable performances in Lotte Wakeham’s lithe production, moving between humour and gravity. And an increasingly intense performance by Emma West, as Lizzie finds a standing she’d never expected before having the ground taken away from beneath her feet.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Tom Bateman.
John Ruskin/Charles Howell/Young Mitchell: Daniel Crossley.
William Holman Hunt: Simon Darwen.
John Everett Millais/Mr Tebbs/Greengrocer: James Northcote.
Lizzie Siddal: Emma West.
Annie Miller/Greengrocer’s Mother: Jayne Wisener.
Director: Lotte Wakeham.
Designer:/Costume: David Woodhead.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Sound: Andrew Graham.
Assistant director: Georgia Lewis-Smith.