Theatre review: Half of Me, Lyric Theatre

Generation Arts. "Half Of Me".

Generation Arts. “Half Of Me”.

Generation Arts isn’t just a worthy cause. The pre-drama school established in 2012 by Ali Godfrey not only gives disadvantaged young people access to acting training, but also highlights real talent that may otherwise get lost in the increasingly privileged world of theatre.

Half of Me is a collaboration between Tamasha Theatre Company, the Centre for Family Research at Cambridge University and Generation Arts. With a grant from the Wellcome Trust, this is a play with a science background.

It’s a very modern play about Areia, a teenager born through ART (assisted reproductive technology) struggling with her identity after she discovers the man she calls dad isn’t genetically related to her.

For a treatment as common and as assimilated into our culture as IVF and other ART treatments are , they are rarely discussed beyond conception. This play gives a voice to young people born through this method and explores the ethical dilemmas posed by those involved.

Half of Me also shines a light on the diversity of the modern family. The notion of mum and dad and 2.4 children is so Brexit;  the characters in this play are loved and cared for by parents who explode the myth that the nuclear family is the only family.

If this all sounds terribly worthy, it’s not. Half of Me is warm, funny and engaging. Satinder Chohan’s poetic script, peppered with rhyming couplets, and the fluid, inclusive staging of Generation Art’s founder and director, Ali Godfrey, keep the tension taunt and the action moving so it’s the people, not the science, we’re involved with.

Areia’s journey, both literal and metaphorical, is chartered under the audience’s watchful eyes and the ‘chorus’ – every member of the cast is on stage at all times – lending the production a punchy, Greek theatrical feel (Areia’s family come to Greece for ART treatment; Areia is obsessed with Greek art).

The cast are all engaging, but it’s Erica Kouassi as feisty, independent Areia who grabs your attention. Her Areia is ballsy, but fragile, determined but compassionate. She’s one to watch. 

Half of Me is a play with a big heart and a lot to say which it does with tremendous heart, compassion and fun. 

Generation Arts



Theatre Review: Bakersfield Mist, Duchess Theatre

Bakersfield Mist

Ian McDiarmid and Kathleen Turner in Bakersfield Mist

My grandmother had a reproduction of one of Lowry’s famous matchstick men pictures on her dining room wall that she was convinced was one of the painter’s great lost works. The painting, one I remember vividly from my childhood, disappeared after she died and I noted that the original wasn’t in the recent Lowry exhibition at the Tate Britain. Perhaps she was right after all… 

Despite her deep rooted belief, I don’t think my grandmother ever called in an art expert to ascertain the providence of this painting as Maude, the protagonist in Bakersfield Mist, does. And if my gran had persuaded a top art bod to travel to her Reading home to cast an expert eye over her Lowry, I don’t think events would have followed those told in new writer Stephen Sach’s play about the value – both monetary and emotional – of art.

Acting royalty Kathleen Turner is Maude, a trailer park dwelling, unemployed barmaid who ekes out a life for herself on the fringes of the world’s richest country with some help from Jack Daniel’s. She is convinced her fortunes have changed thanks to a $3 painting she picked up at a thrift store as a joke birthday present for a friend. After nearly destroying the painting during the birthday celebrations, Maude decides to sell it in a garage sale where a neighbour tells her he thinks she may have Jackson Pollock on her hands.

Having previously not known a Pollock from a pre-school finger painting, Maude swots up on him and is so certain she’s made the art discovery of the decade that she pays for stuffy art academic Lionel Percy to come down to her trailer park and cast his expert eye over it. All this happens before the curtain goes up so we first meet Maude as she’s shooing off her neighbour’s dogs from Lionel’s trouser legs.

Lionel is played by Scotsman Ian McDiarmid who here plays a stuck up public schooled English plonker. He is an archetypical bah-humbug English villain come to wreck the dreams of a game American. He takes one look at the painting (the audience never see it, I’m hoping it was a blown up Stone Roses’ cover) and Maude’s cramped trailer, and attempts to scurry back to his waiting limo driver. But of course if he did that there wouldn’t be a play, so he sticks around for the next hour and 40 minutes for his part in an amusing two-hander that doesn’t quite catch fire.

Bakersfield Mist is a likable, well-acted play with enough good lines and a few narrative surprises to keep our attention, but it never punches through to greatness and the focus seemed to wander. Things start to get interesting – as they usually do – when Lionel begins knocking back the Jack Daniel’s. McDiarmid plays a great drunk and his character is far more palatable loosened up with Lynchburg’s finest.  Like wine, it’s difficult to talk about art without sounding like a bit of a tit, but when tipsy Lionel expresses his passion for art, and Pollock in particular, he takes the easel from out of his backside and talks like a (very drunk) – human. It’s a shame, not to mention unlikely, that he sobers up so quickly.

For all the initial bolshiness of Kathleen Turner’s Maude, and the actress’ great presence, the part felt rather underwritten. By the end Maude seemed to have shrunk into the background and when she does takes centre stage and starts to spill her secrets to Lionel, her dialogue is jarringly poetic.

The Duchess is a lovely, intimate theatre and the set is a cracker that makes you feel that you’re sitting in Maude’s bric-a-bracstrewn trailer. Bakersfield Mist may not have the punch and resonance of recent US hits, A View from the Bridge and Good People, but it’s a cosy, undemanding drama with two appealing leads that could even convince the most Pollock-phobic that he’s an artist worth loving.

by Suzanne Elliott

Bakersfield Mist runs until 30 August 2014 at the Duchess Theatre.

Art Review: Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye, Tate Modern


Despite being a prolific artist and photographer, Edvard Munch remains best known for his late 19th/early 20th century ‘The Scream’ series, the poster of which has become as much a student cliché as stealing traffic cones. Adorning hall of residences up and down the land, the impact of this dark and haunting painting has been more diluted than the lager in students’ union bars with its ever present shorthand for ‘deep and meaningful’.

The odd theft aside, the four versions of ‘The Scream’ don’t leave their respective walls (three are exhibited in museums in Norway, while one hangs from the wall of one lucky old Leon Black) so this exhibition had to find a way of working around the missing elephant in the room. Subtitled ‘The Modern Eye’, the Tate did this by focusing on his 20th century works bringing together his (largely) post-Scream painting, drawings, prints and sculptures.

Not everyone was happy, (“That’s what I came to see”, tutted one man) but while it is great seeing an iconic painting in real life, ‘The Scream’’s absence meant we got to concentrate on Munch’s equally as powerful other works without being distracted by the Big One.

The repetitive, compulsive nature of his work was also celebrated, he repeatedly returned to paintings, including in major works like the haunting ‘The Sick Child’ and the captivating, elegant ‘The Girls on the Bridge’. He also liked to uproot key motifs from their original painting and place them in another work, like a static version of those Harry Potter moving portraits.

Still despite its absence the Norwegian artist’s most famous painting was still difficult to ignore; it’s impossible not to look at his work without ‘The Scream’’s presence being felt. It’s there in the long brush strokes, the bleak, suffocating atmosphere, the whiff of entrapment, in the blurred faces, fluid lines and the ghost-like quality that runs through so many of his works.

Even his photography has elements of his famous paintings. His photography was, for the most part, rather amateurish, despite the Tate’s best efforts to big them up. Munch wasn’t afraid to break Edwardian photography rules and the results are are fun and playful oddly modern. Pre-dating the cameraphone obsessed generation by a century, Munch loved a pouty posed self-taken photo. Munch played out his fascination with the blurred lines between the material and immaterial world as well as his interests in the spirit world in his photography using multiple exposures to create ghostly images with great effect. A worthy exhibition of an artist who deserves to be known for more than just one work.

by Suzanne Elliott

Yayoi Kusama, The Tate Modern

I love polka dots. If it can be polka-dotted, I’ll have it. Aprons, dresses, mugs, jugs – you get the idea, I’m dotty about polka dots. But while for me they are jaunty, retro, joyful and playful, in the hands of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama spots become angst-ridden representatives of her hallucinatory visions. Kusama – who at the age of 82 is still working and can still rock a pink wig – uses polka dots to express the hallucinatory visions that she’s experienced since childhood and the result is trippy, at times disorientating and always fascinating exploration of the mind of this prolific artist.

And standing in ‘I’m Here, but Nothing’ room where everyday furniture and accessories are covered with spot stickers, the humble polka dot is transformed into a psychedelic, mind-altering object. But it wasn’t all about the spots – Kusama’s painting were more subdued but no less transfixing while her Sex Obsession sculptures depicting everyday items covering in phallus might not have been pretty, but were certainly powerful. The final room Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life is discomboluating but brilliant – like being thrust into a polka-dot filled space. Which seems to me to be a like a pretty good place to be.

by Suzanne Elliott