Trapped in inexorable loops, Ed Atkins’s digital creations (victims?) have succumbed to forces unnamed and unknown, yielding to a pornography of upset and grief and alarm. They are the subjects of a manipulatively cruel and merciless creator, wholly defined (and confined) by their distress-their ability to move out of the moment has been stripped from them, forced to endlessly dramatise their anguish. A soundtrack of moans and screams, sad piano chords, agonises through the gallery.
A character in Good Wine performs a circular action that is never allowed to be complete-abruptly, a lifetime comes to pass, and the young boy has become a man seemingly beset by disease, crawling to a piano to play out his own dirge. A storm of human figures tumble from the sky, careening into a void, over and over, until end credits roll at ridiculous length, thanking corporate sponsorship and social media platforms (for a production that never quite began). Sandwich ingredients, including baby corpses and human face masks (like cuts of lunch meat) slap onto bread slices, occasionally blasting apart into cross-sectional studies.
Although characters of undeniable artificiality (bodies, yet not bodies) Atkins is able to suggest enough of some real vulnerability and helplessness to provoke in the viewer a pitiable and empathetic response. Just what is Atkins investigating? Perhaps a peculiar modern disorder to serve ourselves up to a digital dimension, cheapen sentiment, indulge our gaudiest behaviour, wilfully surrender to the reduction of algorithm. We allow for a process of consumption, and may have a complicit hand in our own exploitation.A two-tiered rack of costumes from the archives of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, sending out waves of dormant,dusty air, physically dominate the centre of the space, echoing the wardrobe worn by the onscreen avatars. They speak of ghosts and loss, of those who have inhabited them, animated them, and of the yearning towards those who may possess and liven them again, both reproachful and sympathetic towards the poor souls around them, lacking full lives but theatrically hysterical to achieve materiality and fulfilment.Two weeks on, no matter the meaning, I can’t shake off the haunting imagery. Olde Food closed on 2 June, but you can find excerpts from the works online, and I have a few clips at my Instagram account.
Gothic-tinged, etched in tender gloom, the wide-eyed, wary subjects of this series of paintings by Russon seem on the verge of being subsumed by the very canvas, creeping tendrils of paint bleeding onto the figures, the stark backgrounds insidiously working to claim the fragile beings, as if ready to absorb their forms. A precarious, tenuous hold on an inner equilibrium is evoked-a psychological soundness is at risk of defeat. Defenceless, in retreat, the characters appear to be one thought away from abnegation to forces from within and without the frame. Expressions ( bitter, peevishly resigned, exhausted) denote that no illusions are any longer harboured, hope is a con long extinguished. The dolls to which some cling, the pets beside others, lesson books open (all symbols and talismans of security, safety, escape) are no longer strength against the slide towards a greyish oblivion. Storms rage about, water rising-the title of the exhibition, Deluge, is apropos. Russon favours an austere vision-these are bare pieces, no flagrant embellishments or dramatic flourishes. For the people portrayed, there are no aesthetics with which to protect the self against some terrible truth. She works skilfully and with deft craft in multiple sizes (her miniatures are especially effective in isolating disquieting details)-winter has thoroughly settled into the sinew and flesh of these poor souls, mind and body enervated, speaking only of loss and loneliness. And yet the softness and the delicacy of this gaze into the bleak prevents the works from being overburdened with darkness. Both the oddly melancholy eccentrics of Tim Burton and the gentlemanly grotesques of Edward Gorey may drift through the mind as you walk the gallery. Deluge continues through 23 June
Under a canopy of microphones, like an omnipotent garden of confessional devices, an unscrupulous record producer and his new protege (a young female singer with whom he has collaborated on a wildly successful single) descend into rancour and antipathy over intellectual property rights and psychological abuse. Structured as a series of three simultaneous conversations-legal, therapeutic, personal, occasionally overlapping-the play explores, somewhat schematically, the nature of the artist (the ways in which narcissism shading off into sociopathy may be excused due to talent), deceptive legal manoeuvrings, the politics of ownership of a shared piece of work , the pressures and liabilities of partnership, venomous power dynamics cut along gender and generational lines.
Ben Chaplin is charismatically dissolute and grungy as the wholly self-absorbed producer, coasting on a nonchalant egomania that helplessly pulls otherwise smart, savvy people into its vortex, and Seana Kerslake is emotionally raw and wounded as the young artist experiencing her first professional betrayal (reeling still from her father’s early passing).
The other actors (the respective lawyers and therapists) unfortunately exist only as sounding boards and contrivances to pose the script’s conceptual inquiries, not allowed to exist much beyond the surface-if writer Joe Penhall had found a way to dramatise the issues solely as an assiduous byproduct of the argumentative, calloused relationship between the two leads, had them battle through their words and actions, the play would have really crackled and felt much more immediate, shaking off the rather stodgy approach, which continually interrupts the vigour with a lethargic, staid sense of the academic. Mood Music continues through 16 June
This original musical details the youth rebellion (and revolution) following the austerity and deprivation of World War II, whereupon the dark and damaged facade of Britain rose a new generation full of swagger and cool (the Teddys) with their own lexicon, their own rituals of wardrobe and behaviour-as in America, here was the start of the rock-‘n-roll era. Writer Tristan Bernays isn’t interested in presenting his material as a history lesson, instead revealing the parameters of this burgeoning lifestyle in the blooming love affair between the lead boy and girl, following them from their respective preparations for a night out on the town, their strategies for negotiating their way around disapproving parents, their troubled acquisitions of funds, their furtive movements around neighbourhoods where police prowl and enemies lay in wait and, finally, in a club where they first notice one another, revealing their mutual passion for the American teen idol Johnny Valentine, playing a secret gig at a grotty club in Elephant & Castle that very evening.
Molly Chesworth and George Parker work furiously in the lead roles, Chesworth all hard edges and grand detachment, Parker confident and cocksure, both vulnerable beneath the bluff (and each inhabiting a host of supporting characters skilfully). By the end of the show, both are drenched in sweat at the effort. From the moment an audience member walks into the space, Max Dorey’s set design is already registering, the whole of the theatre resembling a bombed-out area, full of detritus and crumbled material, dense fog lingering. A quartet of spirited and lively musicians, each with a distinct character arc, portray Johnny and his band, essentially playing an ongoing gig throughout the length of the play (a mix of original tunes in the style of the 50’s and a few standards).
Bernays has his lead characters speak in rhyming couplets much of the play, mostly in their private musings, which is a poetic device that doesn’t always work seamlessly (oftentimes it calls too much attention to itself), and there are a few unfortunate developments, the material trending darker as the play progresses, that aren’t in keeping with the generally upbeat nature of the majority of the show (the storylines feel ill-suited and inconsistent). There’s a curious punitive nature to the closing moments, a rather peevish adult confirmation of youth being abandoned to vice and criminality, their sum total of choices and conduct ruinous.
That the audience is asked to jump onstage following curtain call for a dance and jive with the musicians is a bit immodest considering where we have just left the protagonists. Teddy has now concluded its run