by Rebecca Lenkiewicz.
Arcola Theatre 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 12 February 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 January.
Colourful creation of the light and the dark of an artist’s life.
There’s a wonderful familial resemblance between those two fine actors Jim Bywater and Toby Jones. So when the latter’s J M W Turner reveals the old fellow helping him around the workshop is also his dad it’s no shock. There’s been something too in Bywater’s casual manner that suggests family.
He’s the only one in Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new play who doesn’t come tripping to Turner’s studio entranced by the painterly curmudgeon. Pregnant widowed neighbour Sarah smiles at, then leaps upon and kisses the painter, before the former actress settles in and reveals her bourgeois primness. Which includes seeing off Jenny, the Irish prostitute whose body provides Turner with the chance to study female anatomy.
Jenny’s son is the cause of a rare fondness in both of them. Though the boy’s never seen, he’s clearly taken to the only man his mother’s brought home who’s kind to him. However awkwardly he talks about it, there’s an affection for the boy which Turner can’t express towards an adult.
His preoccupation with work marks the older Turner’s understanding of what must be left unstated. Even about the artist’s mother, descending into senility with a wild fear as she’s moved into Bedlam – source of guilt for her son.
If Jenny, so socially distant from Turner, comes closest to him, the painter’s greatest scorn is reserved for his biggest fan, Ian Midlane’s smilingly eager collector. The portrait of the artist contemptuous of art lovers, and unable to communicate with the world around is well-established on stage. As is the contrast between dark days outside – there’s social protest in the streets, and Napoleon’s been rampaging – and the beauty of the artist’s vision.
For, even with Jenny, communication is hesitant and taut. Turner can only speak to someone when he’s speaking to no-one in particular, in lecture fragments through the play, or in his final quiet musing on the struggle and triumph of light. It’s an old idea, that those who live in art find it hard living out of it, but Lenkiewicz and the strong cast of Mehmet Ergen’s production, show it’s still worth retelling.
William Turner: Jim Bywater.
Turner: Toby Jones.
Sarah Danby: Niamh Cusack.
Jenny Cole: Denise Gough.
Mary Marshall Turner: Amanda Boxer.
Man/Hereford: Ian Midlane.
Director: Mehmet Ergen.
Designer/Costume: Ben Stones.
Lighting: Emma Chapman.
Sound: Adrienne Quartly.