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Posts tagged ‘Richard Bean’


All at Sea? The Migrant Painting

I recently was invited to an intriguing exhibition in London’s trendy Shoreditch area, renowned the world over for its wonderful street art over the last two decades or so. Although much remains, to the delight of tourists and others, it’s currently in the grip of gentrification that is affecting so much of the capital and rents have rocketed so that impoverished street artists can no longer afford to live there. One of the few remaining is Stik, so named because of his simple yet evocative stick figures, and he’s just produced a large new work high on a wall near Old Street station. He has paid his landlord rent in canvasses for many years (probably a shrewd investment on the landlord’s part), but who knows how much longer this may last.

Anyway, I made my way past the trendy bars, cafes and restaurants to the Jealous East Gallery where an ethical online money transfer company, Azimo, were exhibiting a specially commissioned work of art alongside four large black and white photos. The title of the exhibition and the main painting: “Can a work of art define the word ‘migrant’” set about tackling the centuries-old problem – that of the negativity surrounding migration, whether it be for political, economic or other reasons. In a different corner of the arts world, Richard Bean’s 2009 controversial immigrant satire at the National Theatre tackled the same issue, which doubtless will surface again and again.

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-18-21-41The remarkable painting by Eleanor Barreau is an imagined interpretation of seven famous migrants in a wooden boat surrounded by iceberg tips. The boat itself evokes the current daily tragedies of Africans fleeing their continent and attempting to start a new life in Europe. The migrants are an interesting choice, particularly as it’s questionable whether they should be associated with the word. I ask myself is this because they are all, in their way, famous, or even celebrities? They are Lionel Messi, the footballer who left Argentina as a 14-year-old to join FC Barcelona; Marie Sklodowska, who emigrated from Poland to Paris when she was 24, then married Pierre Curie and discovered polonium and radium; Mo Farah, a devout Muslim who came to London aged 8 as a refugee and who has become a sporting hero; Gandhi, who lived in South Africa for 21 years where he was a lawyer and civil rights activist; global superstar Rihanna, who moved to the USA from Barbados to further her career; Angela Merkel, born in East Germany under the communist regime and who then found herself a citizen in the united Germany; and finally Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, not a migrant himself, but like so many US citizens the son of migrants, in his case, Syrians.

The young people present at the exhibition, including the founders of Azimo who set up the company because they were appalled at the way traditional money transfer companies were charging such high fees to cash-poor people sending money back to their families, and the artist herself, were passionate about their cause. They were further inflamed by the current spate of racist attacks on migrants living in Britain following the Brexit vote, and were really committed to finding a way to make a difference. Perhaps one small painting won’t change attitudes or the world, but I had to applaud them for their commitment to what seems at times a problem with no solution in sight. And perhaps we should live in hope that from this, and other, little acorns, mighty oaks will grow.

Jeannette NelsonArts critic with special interest in theatre


View from the Stalls – London Theatre 2011

Those of you who may have read my pearls of wisdom on London’s theatre scene will know I am not the greatest fan of commercial West End theatres.  Too often the hype takes hold and I fork out for what almost always is a pricey ticket (even those with substantial discounts are not cheap) only to leave the theatre disappointed and vowing to discriminate more wisely in the future.

Dominic West in Butley

Dominic West in Butley

That’s not to say that the West End never hosts a gem of a play;  it’s really a question of winkling them out.  Happily there is at least one to regale us playing currently: Simon Gray’s Butley at the Duchess Theatre.  Well staged and admirably acted, notably by Dominic West playing the eponymous anti-hero, this play may be celebrating its fortieth anniversary but its rather bleak theme of the disintegration of a rather unpleasant man is, perhaps unfortunately, timeless.  

Butley is an academic whose world, bit by bit, is falling apart, yet Gray has crafted his play so skilfully that rather surprisingly there are some real laugh out loud moments to savour. The supporting cast adds depth and substance to the plot.  This, despite the laughs, is not a fun night out; as this is what so many West End theatre goers seem to want, it’s possible to get a good seat at a discounted price – the tickets booth at Leicester Square (and also now at Brent Cross) are offering almost half price seats for most performances.  A worthwhile piece of drama.
Simon Callow - Being ShakespeareAnother not to be missed performance (though I have yet to see it) must be Simon Callow Being Shakespeare at the Trafalgar Studios.   I witnessed this actor reading all of Shakespeare’s sonnets many years ago and it was mesmerising – his one-man-show promises the same.  But instead of paying £45 for your seat, try – they are offering the seats for £20 + £1 booking fee.  Try this before opening night though, my pessimistic view of what theatregoers want may be wrong in this instance and then the discounted tickets will disappear!
I’ve just read of three more gems due to open in the West End after the summer. Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones will star in Driving Miss Daisy at the Wyndhams Theatre;

Vanessa Redgrave in Driving Miss Daisy

Vanessa Redgrave in Driving Miss Daisy

  Mark Rylance will reprise his star turn in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem which was sold out during the original run and was one of the best plays I saw in 2010.  

And finally the National Theatre’s latest fun-packed hit, One Man, Two Guvnors starring the irrepressible James Corden and adapted by Richard Bean from Carlo Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters One man two guvnorswill open at the Adelphi Theatre in November.  This hits the spot for the Christmas outing of the season.  I saw it at the National a couple of weeks ago it had people rolling in the aisles.  Whatever it costs, this is real value for money!
Jeannette Nelson A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.

New Richard Bean play

The Heretic logo

The Heretic logo

A new Richard Bean play will shortly be opening at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square.  The Heretic is an interesting take on the climate change debate.

The last Richard Bean production I watched certainly courted controversy. England People Very Nice was a rumbustious romp with a cast of hundreds of all colours, shapes and sizes Bean traces the lives of waves of immigrants to London’s Bethnal Green, from the Huguenots, the Irish, the Jews to the Bangladeshis.

Newspaper critics were utterly divided on the play’s merit.  The Guardian and the Indie were less than impressed, calling it stereotypical and racist, amongst other comments.  Charles Spencer in the Telegraph loved it, and the Jewish Chronicle thought the idea of eating bacon sandwiches outside a synagogue on the day of Atonement hilarious!
It is a satire (a comment on TV called it the satire of Alf Garnett, and indeed one of the characters sports a West Ham scarf) and is cleverly helped along by using the play within a play device – the actors playing the actors are in a detention centre, waiting to hear if they have been granted permission to become British immigrants themselves.
What did I think?  I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Jeannette Nelson, Arts Critic
Jeannette is a bit of a culture vulture who enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.

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