#199 - "A lifetime's dazzling work" - exhibition review, Luchita Hurtado

Serpentine Sackler Gallery

What a revelation, and what an indictment of art world sexism. Venezuelan-born American artist Luchita Hurtado’s first public solo show uncovers a lifetime’s dazzling work, from captivating, colourful ab-ex geometries to surrealism-tinged foreshortened nude self-portraits, calligraphic designs on fabric to simple but engaged political works painted in this, her 99th year. On a basic level these pictures are gorgeous enough to fall into: but they also have a muscular, questing rigour and show a relentless desire to push the formal envelope. I could stand for hours in front of her colourful images of tessellating shapes or her collected small pictures of light through apertures. Bravo.


#198 - "Gently beguiling" - theatre review, Our Town 22/05/19

Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

Thematically hokey but formally experimental, Thornton Wilder’s portrait of a turn-of-the-century New England town reminds us how America used to see itself. Laura Rogers’s pert stage manager calls the characters out from theatre seats mirroring the audience’s. Act One establishes the sober, neighbourly, god-fearing milieu of Grovers Corners; Act Two sees two youngsters (Francesca Henry and Arthur Hughes, sweetly affecting) married; in the extraordinary Act Three the dead view the living with pity from the cemetery. Ellen McDougal’s production, with everyone largely wearing what look like their own clothes, honours Wilder’s wish for simple, plain staging: the result is gently beguiling, though it doesn’t set off any rockets.


#197 - exhibition review, Secret Rivers 22/05/19

Museum of London Docklands

This is a charming, impressionistic rather than comprehensive look at the Thames tributaries that have been concealed, converted and in some cases reclaimed, told through a smattering of artefacts and art. The Fleet became a sewer, the Westbourne became the Serpentine, the Neckinger bred cholera in the Jacob’s Island rookery, now home to luxury apartments. There are skulls, swords, paintings and mixed-media work, plus documentation on the spoof campaigns to bring the Effra and Tyburn above ground again. There’s a bigger story here – what about the quaggy – but it’s a diverting reminder that London, as curator Kate Sumnall puts it, is as much a blue city as a green one.


#194 - "Righteous rage, not much else" - theatre review, Salt 17/05/19

Royal Court Theatre

In this monologue, Rochelle Rose gradually demolishes a block of salt with a sledgehammer while detailing artist-author Selina Thompson’s attempts to her legacy of slavery to Africa, the Caribbean and (oddly, since she’s from Birmingham) the US. There’s a lot of righteous rage, mostly focused on being asked where she’s ‘really’ from, here, and a potent musing on belonging, but not much else. An early plan to film the trip fails, the personal and the historical never mesh, and the significance of the salt is unclear. Rose powerfully embodies the indignities Thompson suffers but the result is little more than an angry travelogue.

#196 - "Both intimate and distancing!" - theatre review, Anna 21/05/19

National Theatre, Dorfman

Headphones take us inside the head of the threatened East German heroine – played with brilliant brittleness by Phoebe Fox – of Ella Hickson’s frustratingly brief play. Anna throws a party to celebrate her husband’s promotion and their new apartment, but a figure from the past exposes layers of deceit. The technology feels both intimate and distancing – we watch through a screen, partygoers’ voices fading when Anna leaves the stage to vomit or weep - and audio experts Ben and Max Ringham get co-creator credit. It also makes a shrewder comment on the DDR’s paranoid surveillance of its citizens than Hickson’s script which is taut but, at just 65 minutes, far too skimpy


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