by Snoo Wilson.

Arcola Theatre (Arcola 2) 27 Arcola Street E8 2DJ To 2 October 2010.
Mon-Sat 8.15pm except 20 Sept.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 September.

Portrait of an artist who caused outrage.
Hailed back to ancient Athens by Olympian-seeming Johannes Flaschberger, we are asked to judge (and told which way) like citizens of the ancient democracy the case of modern artist, Egon Schiele. Stylish protégée of Gustav Klimt, Schiele offended his age, being accused of various sexual crimes as a result of his pictures of young women close to or actually naked, and – as Snoo Wilson’s play shows – was imprisoned, his pictures seized, one of them being burnt in court.

Now, needless to say (Wilson doesn’t say it), any place he lived during his short life has an Egon Schiele museum, gallery or memorial. Reclining Nude, the play, focuses on Schiele’s sexual paintings, and his 1912 arrest following, as shown here, a 13-year old’s unannounced arrival and disrobing. The temptation for Schiele was overwhelming – he had to draw her.

His artistic compulsion’s clear from the start, as Simon Harrison’s alert, intense Schiele stares and vigorously sketches Klimt’s dead body. Here, again, is the artist as obsessive, putting everything else behind work. That includes morality, which can’t get in the way if the artist’s vision sees a subject ahead.

1912 places him at a fissure in cultural awareness, as if it had taken Europe a decade to slough off the 19th-century. Emphasising the point, Wilson pops in a series of references to another, less successful painter, Adolf Hitler, whose rise Schiele never saw (the artist died young from the post-World War I ‘flu epidemic). The old/new juncture of 1912 gives relevance to that opening ancients/moderns speech.

While Naomi Sheldon veers between insistently acquiescent model and police official, Katie McGuiness, as the long-term model and lover Schiele eventually dumps for a suitable marriage, ensures sympathy doesn’t all go to the artist, with a performances of intelligence – Walli understands all she sees – mixing practicality (she’s off to be a wartime nurse) and dignity with the void of her ultimate rejection.

Perhaps someone should write about her. Wilson, meanwhile, has a fascinating subject, suggesting rather than exploring the triad of art, pornography and politics, and the perennial territorial overlap between the demands of art and society.

Klimt: Johannes Flaschberger.
Schiele: Simon Harrison.
Walli: Katie McGuinness.
Tatiana: Naomi Sheldon.

Director: Alexander Gilmour.
Designer: Marialena Kapotopoulou.
Lighting: Alex Wardle.
Sound: Tim Digby-Bell.
Composer: James Jones.

2010-09-16 11:35:40

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