100 Paintings 3 stars
A ruefully witty satire, Jack Stacey’s play is set in one room in a crumbling Savoy Hotel. It’s a dystopian – but faintly familiar – world. Pollution means that you can’t go put without an oxygen mask or “breather” and there are triple “stay-safe” government announcements along with unidentified sinister explosions, bangs, whistles from outside. There is no electricity and at one point someone mentions a horse-drawn Tesla.
In that squalid room The Artist (Conrad Williamson) is under commission to produce a hundred paintings at speed – variously aided, hindered or inspired by three very different women. So there’s the first issue – in a play which is laden with them – how does creativity actually work?
It’s amusing especially in the first half hour. Stacey dives headlong through the taboo which usually prevents parents and adult children from discussing the details of their sex lives. And we enjoy The Artist’s agony as The Mother (Denise Stephenson) repeatedly says outrageous things that mothers shouldn’t say to their 25 year old sons. Later we get plenty of situation comedy too as Beatriz (Jane Christie) visits and is mistaken for a sex worker. When Eva (Juliet Garricke) who actually is a sex worker turns up there’s even more confusion.
But I think this play is meant to be more than a comic romp with jokes so bawdy that under-18s aren’t admitted. It’s trying to ask big questions about life, art, free-will and the rest. But these are over-subtly submerged.
All four actors turn out good performances. Williamson does frustrated angst pretty well. Stephenson gives us a well observed outrageous mother. Christie is a gentler contrast searching for something of her own in a subplot (which doesn’t. I’m afraid, add much). Garricke is impressive in her initial eloquent silence and then her wise, stage-commanding articulacy.
Director, Zachary Hart makes interesting use of all four of The Hope’s corners so that it feels pretty immersive and I enjoyed the threading in of Shostokovitch in lyrical mood through Jack Whitney’s atmospheric soundtrack.
First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/100-paintings/