DREDGE & DREAD: APPROPRIATE @ DONMAR WAREHOUSE

THEATRE

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A Southern family gathers at the cluttered, deteriorating ancestral plantation home to settle their recently deceased father’s estate in this atmospheric, audacious production directed by Ola Ince. Dark and troubling matters rustle beneath the foundations (literally as well as metaphorically, as evidenced in the opening scene) and shift within the walls-a disquiet, subtle initially, will shake the rafters with mighty force by the conclusion.

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The tensions between the three central siblings contribute to a hothouse environment of resentment, envy and recrimination that electrify the very air in the home, already heavy with humidity and the asphyxiating cloak of history. As Toni, the caretaker of her father and his image, Monica Dolan marvellously, exhaustively maintains an edge of hysteria; prodigal son Franz (Edward Hogg), with a chagrined past of substance abuse and inappropriate sexual contact, steals into the house, at the start, like a common thief; and Bo (Steven Macintosh, gradually  teasing out an affecting melancholy and vulnerability) has long since defected to New York and become generally engaged in the pursuit of material gain. Various partners and children have accompanied them to aid in sorting through years of detritus and acquisitions.

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Outside, like a brooding, trenchant accusation, is a slave graveyard, an uncomfortable reminder of the domicile’s past. Several racially suspicious items found while rummaging through the accumulated contents spark uncertainty of dear old dad’s sensibilities (one of which, worn by a youngster too fledgling to comprehend its charged impact, rushing on to stage in a gasp-inducing comic shock, is quite awe-striking). When a cache of incendiary photographs of  lynchings is unearthed, passing through nearly all hands onstage, setting off palpable reactions that reassemble the very chemistry of the atmosphere, each individual reaction is telling, most found morally defunct.

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When the possibility of a substantial financial viability of the images is suggested, the assembled reaction feels like a further exploitation of the dispossessed and bereaved. What do these family members owe to the past and to each other, and must they answer for the sins of their fore-bearers? The artful disorder of the first act may be tidied by the start of the second, but the family is left to confront the litter of grievous emotional truths and unsettling personal revelations in the stark clarity of a rapidly disintegrating environment where ghosts abound and will not be stilled. Writer Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins reignites the conventions of the family drama, bringing down the house in the process. Appropriate runs through 5 October 

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Production

 

MORDANCY: WONG PING-HEART DIGGER @ CAMDEN ARTS CENTRE

EXHIBITION

35-year-old Wong Ping is not afraid to go there. His animated tales (delivered in the charming lo-fi analog aesthetic of 80’s video games) are steeped in the awful melancholy of ageing and loneliness, the swell of inappropriate desire and masturbatory throb, anxiety, cruelty, conflict, the sense of a world cycling into a disarray from which it may not emerge. It’s only the giddy, gaudy playfulness of the craft that leavens the thorough existential bleakness on display. Given Wong’s birth place is Hong Kong, it does not require a great leap to comprehend underlying political and cultural issues informing the films, studies of increasing alienation and bewilderment, uncertainty and blight, authoritarian power, helplessness, revolt. The cast of characters in his newest works, Fables, are victims of their own excess and indecision, driven and riven with greed, psychopathy, opportunism, cowardice and weak, compromised constitutions. Even with the most extreme distortions of behaviour and personality, Wong maintains a compassionate, strangely gentle gaze-he acknowledges, if not forgives, the ugly bowels of the human soul. All the filth, perversity, resentment, ill-will, pedantry, the sheer breadth of antisocial tendencies that lurk just below curated civilised surfaces (justly-and mostly-unexpressed), he reveals. The works communicate uncomfortable truths with a frolicsome zip and elan, a honeyed  way to digest disaster both private and public. Wong provides some groovy props (inflatable sculptures and seating, chattering sets of false teeth) to accompany his warped, psychedelic takes on Aesop’s tales. Heart Digger closed on 15 September, but many of Wong’s animations can be found online

 

SEA OF MARKS: NICHOLAS KONTAXIS-REACH-WEST CONTEMPORARY

EXHIBITION

Over the course of his 23 years, Kontaxis has suffered more than 50,000 seizures as a result of extenuating circumstances from a congenital brain tumour, in addition to registering on the autism scale. A self-taught artist, Kontaxis has found both refuge and expression through his medium, his armada heavy acrylic paints and a series of pallet knives with which he constructs (mostly colossal) frames of vivid colour fields dense with daubs, squiggles, scratchings and whorls. The titles of each work on a whole are felicitous and upbeat, and indeed standing in their bright surround enlists and enlarges the spirit, a less laborious and mannered Pollack, absent of his abrasiveness and churn. Despite the obsessive repetitions and stark regimentation of design, it is an ethereal and blithe sensibility informing their creation, a cheerful disposition. Mostly non-verbal, Kontaxis voices himself through the paintings, and his manner is one of jovial chaos. A mighty marketing machine is hard at work on his behalf-major shows in Chicago and Los Angeles and now London, several high-profile commissions with the likes of Adidas, the Coachella music festival and various sports teams-and famous patrons such as Roger Federer provide a visibility and legitimacy that could take years for most artists to achieve (if at all). I truly hope that Kontaxis can withstand this onslaught of trend and flavour machinations, as beyond all the heaving mechanics a sweetly substantial outsider soul is at play. Reach was on display at 35 Baker Street from 4-10 September