Time & Leisure Studio, New Wimbledon Theatre
Reviewed – 11th March 2019
“I cannot recommend it enough, although I take no responsibility for your reaction to it”
Half way through Patrick Kennedy’s production of “Pain(t)”, a voice-over announces that “we are now reaching the interesting part of the play. Everything up to now has been recognisable”. Oh yeah? From where I’m sitting nothing whatsoever has been familiar so far. Which is the underlying beauty of avant-garde artist Richard Foreman’s work. Since the establishment of his ‘Ontological-Hysteric Theatre’ in New York in 1968, he has produced numerous plays, over the five decades, with perhaps the most experimental and provocative ideas in postmodern theatre. Yet apart from Foreman himself, Patrick Kennedy is the only director to stage his work in the UK.
Which is no easy task. It must be like being abandoned in a chaotic, unfamiliar city with no compass or street signs. Yet Kennedy has somehow paved his own way to present something quite stunningly unforgettable, mesmerising and incomparably bizarre. Just don’t ask me what it’s about. Not because I don’t know (well – in truth I have no idea!) but because, like a surrealist painting, the observer is entitled to take away whatever they want. Any interpretation is seemingly allowed. “Any sentence can mean anything” is a recurring motif that defines the erratic narrative.
However, for those who feel the urge to sniff out a storyline, the scenario seems based on an ancient French fable in which a young woman from the Provinces comes to the big city to try to gain fame as a great artist. Upon meeting the leading paintress of her day, she realises that to replace that talented lady in the public’s eye would not be easy. In this interpretation Rhoda (Emma Gilbey) arrives in Potatoland (yes – you read that correctly) to gain fame by usurping the ruling artist Eleanor (Ivy Lamont). Meanwhile Max (Benjamin Chaffin) is being held sexual prisoner for the two artists’ ravenous delights. This incredibly dedicated and open-minded cast, which also includes Ola Forman and Tommaso Giacomin, have no trouble drawing the audience in, such is the unselfconscious belief in their uninhibited performance.
It is a performance that transfixes throughout; the dramatic equivalent of a dropped jaw. It is part arthouse cinema, part radio play, part installation, part theatre of the absurd, part cartoon, part surrealist and Dadaist art; with echoes of Buñuel and Dali; Lynch and Genet; Beckett and Burroughs. But even curiouser and curiouser. It makes Alice’s adventures seem positively mundane and quotidian.
You will loathe it or love it – it seems impossible to imagine anything in between. I cannot recommend it enough, although I take no responsibility for your reaction to it. But there is no denying the importance of this sort of art form. It makes us look at theatre, and life to some degree, in a different way. But I can’t really describe why. The dictionary definition of ‘indescribable’ is twofold. Traditionally it was a word used for something too unusual or extreme to be adequately described; yet recently it has become a superlative to express sheer excellence. “Pain(t)” is a show that encompasses both definitions.
Indescribable, indescribable – and unmissable.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Alessia Chinazzo
Time & Leisure Studio, New Wimbledon Theatre until 16th March
Previously reviewed at this venue: