Alys, Always @ the Bridge Theatre

Meek, mousy Frances, a nest of anxiety, toils as a lowly sub-editor in the arts department of a commercially fading magazine bleeding readers and relevance, tasked mostly with coffee runs and package deliveries. Regularly, she must suffer the fatuous tales of her pampered, well-connected colleague’s nights out on the literary social scene, all the while being continually, chronically overlooked  by her editor. One chance night, on a darkened, misty road, Frances’s fortunes take a wildly unexpected turn when, the only person onsite of a deadly crash, she spends the last few moments with the female victim-who turns out to be the wife of a celebrated, charismatic author who is about to release a new novel and is eagerly courted by the staff of the magazine.

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The family requests to see and speak with the one human being who spent the last few moments with their loved one-and thus Frances is ushered onstage and in to the good graces of the rich and famous, becoming confidante to spoiled daughter and, eventually, lover of the unsavoury paterfamilias, overall  a quite needy, dysfunctional clan. It’s increasingly apparent that Frances is skilled in her “reading” of various family members, very assuredly and determinably writing each chapter in her unfolding story-and taking  every professional advantage of changing perceptions of her worth and use in proximity to such abundant wealth and influence.

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Clearly, there is a wily sting in the tail of this erstwhile timid creature, Frances proving herself the equal, if not superior, viper, all in the name of self-declaration, a transition that Joanne Froggatt (of Downton Abbey fame) beautifully expresses without reliance on broad dramatic gestures, just a subtle accretion of confident, poised assertion and quietly venomous drive, a maestro of monstrous orchestration and negotiation.

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The staging is a similarly slick and sinuous arrangement of hydraulics. “Luck is the equation of preparation plus opportunity,” Frances is told-whether conscious of it or not, Frances has indeed been long ruthlessly preparing.  Alys, Always runs through 30 March

Admissions @ Trafalgar Studios

Sherri, head of admissions at a progressive New Hampshire school, works tirelessly to increase the percentage of diversity within the student body, boasting (perhaps hubristically) that her efforts have resulted in an 18% rise in “people of colour”. Much comic mileage is made from her pained interactions with an older member of staff over the visual content of  the school’s prospectus, its racial balance, the baffled colleague from an era long before the politically correct (or modern) lurching from one extreme to the other in imagery.

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A personal crisis of conscience erupts when Charlie, Sherri’s son, is deferred from his Ivy League university choice and his best childhood friend (biracial, but who identifies as black) is accepted-a true test of the limits of both Sherri’s and her husband Bill’s liberal largesse. Playwright Joshua Harmon is fearless, bold and brave in his script, unafraid to wade into some very uncomfortable truths and unsympathetic behaviour, gleefully treading through conceptual land mines. Charlie, hurt and sore, lashes out in a minutes-long tirade, an aria against the idea of “positive discrimination” which may just keenly border on white privileged rage. His parents scramble, quite uncivilly, to use every available connection to orchestrate his seat back at the table (“ You don’t have to understand,” Sherri inscrutably screams at her incredulous son at one stage, another parent gone a bit mad over her offspring’s educational opportunities).

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The drama plays out mostly within the confines of  the couple’s beautifully appointed, immaculately groomed, stately kitchen, a broad staircase rising just to the side, a promise of the unseen stature and wealth that inhabit the rest of this residence, the benignly smug comforts of their lifestyle. Resentful Charlie claims that he will opt for community college and bequest his college fund to a  disadvantaged student (read:non-white) less as an act of righteous indignation than as a way to punish his parents and to expose their hypocrisy. Much of the dialogue is gasp-inducing (Harmon has a line in bracing wit), scorching in its unflinching relentlessness.

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The emphasis is entirely on the skewering of white pieties and assumptions, so the lack of any viewpoint outside the central characters (although possibly problematic) is understandable. Within this restricted frame, Harmon allows for lots of perspectives, moment to moment shifting the audience’s allegiance and opinion. Everyone on stage has a voice, and all are allowed to speak-Harmon’s primary belief is that as complicated and uneasy as the exchange around this topic may be, as unresolvable as the discussion may be, we have to engage in the conversation regardless. Admissions runs through 25 May

Circa @ Old Red Lion Theatre

Over the course of its 100-minute running time, Tom Ratcliffe’s work ambitiously charts the 30-year odyssey of a young gay man, from tremulous youth to melancholic middle age, embodied by a trio of fine actors who extract every brief tremor of happiness, humour, wariness and heartbreak out of the material, poignantly mapping the arc of a curious, thoughtful individual, not always comfortable or confident of self.

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Devised as a series of sketches delineating key moments of his life, each actor has to work with great skill and detail to suggest the enormity and significance of each sequence, how each upheaval and encounter will reverberate into the next stage, define behaviour and opinion in later acts, an agile game of throw and catch between the central trio. Referred to only as “the Man”, Ratcliffe allows for broad engagement-this is Everystory, easily accessible by a wide audience. “The Man” struggles to define himself and what he wants against societal demands and assumptions, loving and losing along the way (a particular conflict here is the expanse of possibilities for a gay man in contemporary society, a pride of freedom vs monogamy and marriage).

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A late scene involving a chance meeting amongst the man and a former lover, which leads to an evening spent in soft reminiscence, tenderly aches with unresolved feelings and missed opportunity, a sense of shared, intimate history effortlessly suggested (Daniel Abelson is especially effective in the middle passages, a core of quivering confusion, indecision, anxiety-a gentle soul steadily losing his way). As his younger self, Thomas Flynn has a wicked, candid assertiveness, the easy deportment of youth, a grand unawareness of the ways in which life will eventually grind him gently but purposefully down.

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Antony Gabriel is a bit shortchanged as he only has one scene as the senior version of the Man, but the sequence does bring a rhyming close with the opening scene-the Man has come full circle, a compromised man staring at a younger version of himself, the cycle about to be repeated, one generation to the next. Circa runs through 30 March

My Name Is Lucy Barton @ Bridge Theatre

Bored, agitated, impatient, Lucy Barton addresses the audience from her hospital room, suffering a nine-week internment due to an unspecified illness in 1980’s New York. In and out of consciousness, Lucy awakes one morning to find her estranged mother in a chair at the foot of her bed-somehow she has made her way from the small town in Illinois from which a conflicted Lucy has long-ago escaped an impoverished, derelict childhood (in both material and spiritual sense).

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The women chatter, gossip, reminisce, cast withering judgements on people and institutions, circling but never quite confronting the tangled, coarse and difficult love between them (the tough stoicism of the American Midwest resides deeply within Lucy’s mother’s soul, frills and niceties scraped free). Some of this spirit claims Lucy still, despite her years living in New York-much is unresolved from those troubled times. A commanding Laura Linney prowls the minimalist stage, effortlessly conjuring multiple environments just from her speech (aided greatly by the verbal dexterity of Rona Munro’s script, based upon Elizabeth Strout’s best-selling novel).

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She’s calm, cool and riveting in her extended reverie, woozy, rambling, trying to work some mystery out. Mom may be merely a hallucination, a phantom from which Lucy needs a pardon or pass-or a ghost that Lucy must set to rest. From the humble, narrow beginnings, Lucy has struggled to write and live her way out of them, to spread free of their confines and see a more expansive world-she can declare, at conclusion, that the world is astonishing, bursting with amazement. She is seized with it. My Name Is Lucy Barton closed its second run on 16 February 2019

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Quite beyond the overall quality of the work on display, I champion the ethos of this annual event in which local independent galleries (and, increasingly, a few higher profile names) host fellow independent galleries from all corners of the world, allowing artists whom otherwise would be unable to exhibit widely outside their native countries, due either to monetary or sponsorship constraints, to be seen by a greater number of people. The economics are “softer”, as the founders of the commission state, far from the heavy-breathing of the major market-driven annual art fairs, which allows space for more experimental and fringe work. Originating in London in 2016, Condo has been successful enough to launch versions in New York, Mexico City, Shanghai, Athens and São Paulo-I hope with great sincerity that as it expands its reach it will be able to retain its alternative integrity. This year, 52 galleries were represented across 18 London spaces. I am happy to report I and my friend Nora, with skilful negotiation, were able to visit every gallery without maniacal pace over the course of Condo’s four weeks, pervasively spread out across the city (if nothing else, Condo offers a tremendous opportunity to experience the breadth of an urban environment, from corners both chic and gritty).

And so, to highlights: You’d be forgiven for believing that you had walked into a bath and shower showroom at Modern Art, what with the glistening, gleaming ceramic surfaces of Nicolas Deshayes’s pieces-basins, cisterns, plumbing networks glaze with an unearthly shine, troublingly, strangely erotic in their bare, shapely offer of curves and angles; upstairs, Charlotte Posenenske’s cardboard creation-mimicking, from afar, the solidity of wood-is a playfully monstrous playground attraction, releasing a desire to frolic atop, along and through its dimensions. At The Approach, Vanessa Safavi’s prolific and generous use of silicone and ovular imagery confronts and interrogates, lightheartedly, performative issues and articulated demands around the body (a crushed, abundantly folded piece of silicone, appearing almost like an impossibly twisted ceramic vase, is stuffed uncomfortably within a frame adorned with wooden bars, suggesting a sinisterly transparent form of oppression); Cajsa Von Zeipel’s The Gossips (referencing Camille Claudel’s oft self-repeated sculptural work) are a quartet of female figures arising out of plinths with groovy, leisurely assertion (human/alien hybrids engaged in a form of transformation), a nearly synthetic Siren “collectivisation” against a world that would otherwise seek to reduce, debase or demean them-they are empoweringly afflicted by technical and sexual refuse on their skin and bodies, carrying a song beneath their surface , beaming their way to satisfied self-actualisation entirely on their terms; at Hollybush Gardens, Vadim Fishkin’s beguiling projections (video footage on my Instagram account) prey intriguingly upon the perceptions-with a sly sleight-of-screen, silhouettes of stationary objects move with an abandoned animation (another work, a small globe tipped over on its side, bleeds out the colours of its continents); Lina Viste Gronli’s sneaker series at Union Pacific nods at both the materiality and (eventual) practical reality of the shoe fashion industry (one piece is adorned in shiny copper coins, the other blanketed in a coy pattern of detritus collected off the street and pavement), a wry disconnect between the decorative aesthetic and the functional destiny of an item-elsewhere, Hans-Christian Lotz, like a madly inspired craftsman, works found pieces of aluminium, silicone and acrylic glass into stunning industrial window frames akin to Arabic friezes; Chelsea Culprit’s canvases eye-pop with colour, a riot of gestural and bodily contortions and distortions (sometimes whirling free of the frame) , a devolution into fractal patterns, elongated terpsichorean manoeuvres endlessly cycled in systems and codes of anguish and delirium-upstairs, Juliette Blightman’s images suggest interesting negative spaces within interior environments, teasing what is and is not seen, one object in full colourful, bold view, and a hidden (or less conspicuous) space rendered in pencil, humming with the breath of a private refuge, or perhaps the tender ghost of a remembered, but now lost, anchor; at the Sunday Painter, Samara Scott offers symphonic horizontal urban collages, flat cabinets of curiosities in which collections of grit, dirt and general rubbish salvaged from across the spectrum (English country estates to council grounds) smash together-and level-smug distinctions between high and low culture, hung like window dressing (or props) set by the visual stylist at a high-street boutique. I could go on and on , which speaks volumes about the profligate variety on display, the sheer head-spinning glory-I’m glad to have made the acquaintance of all the participating artists, and look forward to another round next year. Please watch out for 2020’s iteration-information should be available at the top of the year. Condo ran from 12 January to 9 February



Photos are not able to justly communicate the majesterial physicality of these furiously visceral paintings of Swiss artist Conrad Jon Godly. With but a few bold strokes and sweeps of brush, he conjures flagrantly, turbulently expressive vistas of mountainscape and valley, his inspiration the town of Chur, the capital of the Swiss canton of Grisons. A close side perspective of each enlightens the viewer as to Godly’s technique-prodigious (nearly profligate) impasto marks churn off the frame, thick horizontal clumps that imitate the vertical grandeur of Godly’s subject matter, and which lend a roiling texturally  dimensional kick to the works when faced head on. The results hover between a photorealism and the abstract-fine, wispy overlays of white suggest mist or snow set against the denser, craggy blacks of rockface; temperate uses of blue and green seasonally expand Godly’s range, capturing the landscape in various modes of mood and tone and light. Humming through the pieces are Godly’s very obvious awe and respect for this environment, its inviolability and magnificent silent presence, its ancestral soul.  “Only after closely watching and listening, can you understand your subject,” Godly claims, acknowledging the interference and intrusion of words or speech on artistic process. Once a successful fashion photographer, Godly now divides his time between Switzerland and Japan, where his work enjoys great popularity (especially with its illustrative and design link to calligraphy). These are pieces that exert an aesthetically hallucinatory hold upon the viewer, surrounding than swallowing you whole with a glorious severity. To See Is Not To Speak closed on 2 March



Before you even take the first step to ascend to the top floor gallery, Julie F Hill’s Dark River II arrestingly assaults the senses, a celestial curtain spilling down the length of the atrium and crumpling at its base, the spiral of the staircase in a comradely conspiratorial conversation with its cosmological surface, the arithmetic of its canvas of nebulae and stars. Using an archival astronomical print (a section from the largest photograph ever taken of the Milky Way, staggeringly measuring 108,200 by 81,500 pixels, containing close to 9 billion pixels overall), a viewer stands transfixed, vision guided heavenward, lost in the infinity of its upwards sprawl. Upstairs, Hill’s Dark River I, seemingly more restrained, neatly situated at a point of egress to the roof, sits atop a mirror, a straightforward reflection of object and also endless elongation of its central mystery, each crease and fold containing any multitude of latent, gestating universes. Hill’s video installation, Through Machine and Darkness, harnesses a revolutionary algorithmic class of AI called DCGAN-Deep Convolutional Generative Adversarial Network to be precise, and quite a mouthful-trained on over 45,000 images from cameras onboard the Hubble Telescope. From darkness, the piece incrementally wakes to full screen, until a viewer is enmeshed in a floating, geometrical rhapsody of pure pattern and shape, undefinable and elusive, a not-necessarily terrifying encounter with an environment devoid of recognisable conventional spatial signifiers such as borders or horizons-it’s a meditative fall through the conscripts of time and meaning, pleasantly detached from the need for a beginning or end.

In their eschewment of all visual fuss, Hannah Luxton’s sublime works are left to concentrate entirely on the elemental-they have the absolute expressive simplicity of cave paintings, communing with the ancestral. Luxton allows the viewer a very generously portioned space to contemplate and interrogate her natural images as they shimmer and spill and creep across the linen canvas, suggesting slightly anxious inner states that are nevertheless held in a warm earthen embrace of negative space (I was reminded of the otherworldly environments as seen in photos of Namibia). A gossamer wash of celestial light gently troubles the frame in Star Spill; a black cellular blot (malignantly?) drifts unfixed through a nebulous landscape, whispering chaos; a dark, blue-edged stain thrusts up from the canvas bottom in Moon Mountain, its spread ratio undetermined; ovular pools (one of pure white, another  flecked with bloodied-red coils) are set beneath mercilessly rich, dark skies possibly  redolent of approaching storm or apocalypse; a soot-coloured cloud prepares to unleash upon a fragile slip of sky-blue optimism in A Storm is Coming, You Should Stay Home. Elsewhere, lunar objects reflect delicately in clear pools of water and shine harmoniously over mountaintops. In some alchemical way, the works seem to brighten and soften the physical space in which they are exhibited, despite the occasional surface tension. Present is a grave knowledge older, deeper than language, surmounting any small personal crisis, implying an empyreal endurance .

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Mapping both inward and outward perspective, the vast realms and panoramas contained within each, Hill and Luxton engage with the imagination’s power to burst boundlessly through reason to a more instinctive and primal intelligence, a majesty of fancy , wielding forces from the primordial to the very latest technological advancements. Of Stars and Chasms closed on 24 February

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