Upon reflection, I am inclined to consider this bracing feat of engineering and computer programming as less a work of traditional art than a spectacularly effective theatrical stunt, the logistics of which are impressive. Impresario Jordan Wolfson offers up a segmented puppet, trussed up in chains, an elaborate hydraulic system sinisterly manipulating its movements, conjuring queasy images of torture and detainment. The figure is dragged across the floor, hoisted high then dropped violently to the ground in a sickening cycle of abuse. Although in appearance Caucasian (the artist has cited Huckleberry Finn, Mad magazine’s mascot Alfred E Neumann and enduring American childrens’ television character Howdy Doody as inspiration), the piece’s title of Coloured Sculpture complicates perceptions with allusions to racial and ethnic concerns of unjust treatment and discrimination by white authority (it’s impossible not to identify the imagery of lynching and drawing-and-quartering in what we see).A sudden, loud blast of Percy Sledge’s soul classic “When A Man Loves A Woman” startles onlookers and is just as abruptly cut off, a disorientation of dissonance, the use of the song perhaps suggesting yet another layer of meaning or intent-a dark psychology underpinning the behaviour of the central character in regards to the female, an inarticulate rage. At one point, the puppet floats over to the assembled audience and launches into a scalding itinerary of invective, facial recognition technology allowing its eyes to track individual members-maybe what we’re witnessing is actually a complex exorcism? The piece may be a jape at the absurdity of white male privilege, positing itself as pathetic victim while still carrying the currency of aggressor (the puppet as a physical piece is both vulnerable and durable). Quite beyond all the theory, the piece works simply as a bold, over-the-top achievement of performance installation. It may uncomfortably allow all your old Chucky (or similar doll-based) nightmares to resurface from wherever you may have thought them safely locked. The exhibition has now closed, but please visit my Instagram to view a few videos from my visit. You can  also find many video documents online.





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Is this would-be state-of-the-nation opus about the crisis within the NHS system by the estimable Alan Bennett meant to be a sober issue-oriented analysis or a knees-up, savagely farcical send-up of governmental hubris and disdain for the common people? A bit of both, but not enough of either, if this farrago is the result. Moment to moment, the script lurches clumsily from the sentimental to the polemical to the comical, without ever finding a proper way to integrate its many moods.

Credit british theatre guide

A group of elderly patients, many of whom are not gravely ill, while away their days in the geriatric ward of a Yorkshire medical facility founded on archaic (so the play would describe) principles such as compassion and assistance (most have been abandoned there by relatives happy to be unburdened of them, casualties as well of a lack of any sort of comprehensive social care system). Often, they break into song and dance, belting out old standards, in defiance of age and position, of being forgotten.

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Singled out for particular vituperation is the civil servent son of one garrulous patient, ostensibly onsite to belatedly visit his father but actually there to facilitate the closure of the hospital for his Whitehall boss in a streamlining strategy; the grasping administrator, wholly self-serving and cowardly, consumed with entitlement; and a film crew hired to record the campaign to celebrate the integrity of the community institution who are more interested in ferreting out lurid and salacious detail of its operations.  Homicide is suggested, just before the interval, as the inevitable byproduct of a ferocious targets-driven agenda (available beds become the symbol of ultimate success or failure in this environment).

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This is a crass system that steadily consumes and erodes any idealism or energy that may have initially motivated its workers. An immigrant doctor whose genuine concern for and interest in his patients is unassailable, is eventually called before a board to determine his right to residency (shades of possible calamitous implications to come next March when Brexit kicks in),  which leads to a rather bizarre, bewildering reprimand addressed straight to the audience, a scolding call for Britain to wake up and reassess its priorities- a sudden, strange harangue that stops the momentum dead.

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With over 25 characters squaring off for space on stage, it’s impossible to know any character expect in the broadest terms, the constant wicked (albeit clever) wit the most overweening personality trait. I feel that no one involved really wanted to alienate the audience, either with too much anger or militancy, rather settling for a cosy, anodyne middlebrow ground. The script feels both rushed and overstuffed, as if one or two drafts away from true refinement. Curious, given all the professionals involved in the development. Allelujah continues through 29 September



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Based on Alison Bechdel’s acclaimed graphic memoir, this chamber musical is a quietly revolutionary work, intimately-scaled, uncommonly tender, sensitively aware of the heartbreaking ways in which family members are able to lock themselves away from those to whom they should be closest, estranged and marooned in their own inner struggles, victims of shame and uncertainty and pride. Simultaneously representing  three time periods on stage (encompassing Alison’s adolescence, university years and her adulthood), revolving around the principle relationship with her father, it’s the frustrated search to comprehend her father’s act of taking his own life (on this matter, the work is equivocal, a great part of its conflict-and vexation-for the lead character). A rigourous, foreboding and unyielding figure prone to outburst and rage, Bruce Bechdel laboured as both funeral director (the “fun home”of the title, as nicknamed by the Bechdel children) and high school English teacher, who led a closeted life as a gay man, freewheeling through several affairs, many of which were ill-advised liaisons with students both former and current (one particular incident, in clammy fashion, led to court-mandated counselling). Having come out herself in college, a declaration met with some great resistance and difficulty from her father, Alison is left to muse on the ways in which her open, brave embrace of her orientation may have aggravated and exacerbated the strife at his core, her strength a rebuke to his cowardice and inability to accept himself.  Staging throughout is minimalist, except for one reveal that knocks the senses sideways, as what has only been mentioned is magnificently, suddenly unfurled. The songs are the antithesis of the usual brass and pomp of slick Broadway musicals, instead quiet (and sometimes excitable), gripping extensions of intense inner emotional lives. Two pieces in particular (“Changing My Major to Joan” sung with all the ardour and enthusiasm of a young lover in the wake of a first sexual experience as college Alison gazes besottedly upon the sleeping form of her partner; and “Days and Days” painfully, mournfully delivered by Alison’s mother late in the play, revealing the sacrifices made to keep her marriage intact long after its demise) can stand next to any classic in the canon.

Credit young vic

The power of the piece, as in any great work, is that the understanding of the dynamics moves quite beyond the specifics into the mythic-even if this is not quite every viewer’s story, it’s a very simple adjustment of detail that need be made to relate it to direct experience. The play steadily accrues a piercing momentum of melancholy and sadness, at its conclusion nearly overwhelming. Some answers are never forthcoming, no matter how hard and how often you ask and spin-the mysteries of motivation will remain out of reach and unknowable. But you will be able to eventually subject them to the assuagements and spiritual appeasements of art, at which Bechdel (and collaborators Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori) excel with wounding insight and sentiment. Fun Home closes 1 September-watch for a possible, much-deserved West End transfer, although I’m not certain the scale of a proscenium stage is the proper venue for such a personal work.

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Pschosexualdelia: Helen Beard/Boo Saville @ Newport St Gallery-What is going on inside Helen Beard’s mind? Much wet, fevered erotic expulsions, if the overwhelmingly sensuous, large-scale works that adorn (and sweat) the walls of Damian Hirst’s South London gallery are evidence. What at first seem like supple investigations of interlocking shapes quickly resolve themselves into weaves of quite startling sexual imagery, boldly colourful interventions and abutments given bodily movement and pressure, a soft welter of pleasurable crushing and crashing, like psychedelic, acid-tinged negative shots. Your optic mental health needs Boo Saville’s chilled colour fields as a visual digestif immediately following, an immersion into calm, gentle pulse and breath, welcoming with a tender embrace and envelop, subtle gradations of shade and layer providing fascinating depth and dimension. A bemused viewer is curious to walk through the murk to the mystery obscured at the heart of each work, or just surrender to the amiable oblivion. True Colours closes 9 September

Optic Origami: Tomma Abts @Serpentine Sackler Wing-Although the recipient of the 2006 Turner Prize, and a London resident, this is the first comprehensive London exhibition devoted to the work of Abts. Working under self-imposed restrictions (the unvaried canvas size is set to the dimensions 48cm x 38cm, a device she playfully subverts in certain instances; her focus remains rigidly fixed to abstract geometrical patterns, intuitively devised), she is nevertheless able to find remarkable variety in her kaleidoscopically fecund output. The works buzz with a visual elan, lines bending, looping, folding, charging around the canvas, occasionally, with the clever use of shadowed space, even leaping off the frame with 3-D clarity. She is able to achieve a beguiling depth while maintaining a simplicity of design elements-the works are tidy, with no unnecessary embellishment. Abts vigourously directs the spectator’s eye through every energetic surge or detour or abrupt conclusion. Some may find the pieces chilly and methodically mechanical, but there is prodigious, forthright imagination and a certain warmth in colour scheme fully on display-the senses are acutely engaged. The works appear to be informed by some vivacity that emanates from the centre of the frame, sending a spirit outward. Tomma Abts continues through 9 September at Serpentine Sackler Gallery 

In Perpetuity: Rebecca Louise Law @ B0-Lee Gallery-Proving that not even ephemeral art need apply to the ruthless rules of nature, artist/alchemist Law (daughter of a National Trust gardener, and designer known for her monumental floral installations commissioned for public spaces) has found a way to, with a respect for natural process, transmute her material from one elemental state to another, elongating-and extending-its existence as creatively legitimate and substantial matter for exhibition. For the last 15 years, Law has painstakingly gathered the withered, sere remains of her pieces (a global effort, encompassing America, Europe and Asia) and has now archived them in frames both large and small, cabinets of fragmented curiosities. A series of traditionally framed works line the peripheries of the gallery’s front wallspace, but the rear of the gallery is a knockout warren of individually showcased gems, contents able to be studied from both sides-layerings of faded colours, grit, the titular dust, plant life, elements of decomposition and decline, tales told. Each, as the work that inspired it (indeed, fed it), has an unmistakable earthy personality. In the middle of the floor is situated one unbounded mass of matter, as if it has soundly rejected the strictures of sequencing , proudly and vulnerably open to the air. The show put me in mind of the majestic 2010 film Le Quattro Volte, which followed the process of nature from the human through to the mineral basis of existence, the carbon foundation of life. Dust closes on 1 September





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Nestled within the verdant confines of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is this cosy palace devoted to the appreciation of that most venerated of British drinks, tea (ignore at your peril the notice-warning?-on the front door that coffee is not served on the premises, and know the inadvertent request for such a refreshment will most likely lead to a few fraught arched eyebrows). Operating as a tea house since 2011, the building dates from 1886, originally a Victorian public house-the Pleasure Gardens themselves are thought to be the inspiration for the eponymous “Vanity House” of Thackeray’s classic novel. The list of loose leaf teas is extensive, all choices served in proper pots (strainers provided), swaddled in cosies, served in stylish, if distressed, china cups-someone on staff has clearly been active at several estate sales. The surface of a back table is littered with tiers of drinking vessels, and a nearby chair piled high with a multitude of cosies, from which the servers gently plunder for each order. Classic FM provides the soundtrack, a sedate, tranquil backdrop to conversation. A comprehensive menu is served, from breakfast through to supper, although it is seductively simple to race straight to a sweet, treats dotted across the space, trays atop tables offering delicacies from cheesecakes to brownies to pies to breads. Decor is charmingly ramshackle and cluttered, suggesting the overstuffed parlours of your favourite eccentric auntie. A lively evening calendar assures a visitor of an interesting night’s entertainment-activities include staged readings, debates, drink ‘n draws, poetry slams, a variety of music acts. Whether seeking a low-key, civilised oasis of afternoon calm and peace or a spirited eventide of culture, this very agreeable space provides in spades.

Credit kenningtonrunoff





Credit What’s on Stage


As soon as the central characters, abstractly identified only as the Writer and the Academic, begin their conversational interaction, it’s clear that we are firmly in the New York intellectual vernacular of a Tony Kushner (Angels in America) or Larry Kramer (The Normal Heart). Dialogue is hyper-articulate and obsessively, sensationally self-absorbed and theoretical-the couple speak at, through and over each other in a heat of verbiage.  Credit actors Tyrone Huntley and Harry McIntyre for locating the human beings inside the loquacious and fulsome spillage of words, often suggesting the torrent of combative words as protective shields from having to stand naked and vulnerable in front of one another, deflecting the candid glare of simple honesty.

Credit The Art’s Desk

Something truthful in the relationship, perhaps what is revealed in bodily behaviour and glance, speaks more directly than the dazzlingly distracting and disorienting wordplay. By the closing moments of this one hour and forty-five minute production (without interval) detailing five fraught years in the relationship between these two men, from initial meeting to flowering connection to deep intimacy to eventual break-up, and finally tender reconciliation, there exists a real potent poignancy in the encounters (and McIntyre delivers a real emotional belter on the sales floor of a Lush shop, the ample bath bombs of which occupy three wooden units on stage, contributing a cloyingly heady scent to the room).

Credit What’s on Stage

The characters enact a fragmented, constantly time-shifting structural exploration of the relationship, key moments circulating, deepening as more information and history is accrued and revealed, as affairs both public and personal rage around them (many of which are catalyst for major arguments-race, politics, gentrification, media studies, art, gay rights, drugs, sexual experimentation). The device of “rewinding” backwards and forwards, the actors shifting like tape loops, is not always the sharpest transitional choice. The audience is sat in the round, in very close proximity to the performers (occasionally, one of the characters may suddenly occupy space right next to you), for a proper intimate connection to this particularly insular pairing.

Credit Finborough Theatre

Action takes place on a stretch of sand, a charged metaphor for the uneven and slippery surface upon which the relationship is found, the warp and weave of personal anxiety and paranoia continually destabilising the concrete, the solid. Apparently, and with brazen-at times unwieldy-ambition, playwright Jordan Seavey seems to want to declare his work as a bold, big statement of the American character, encompassing the pressures and stresses upon love and life-cultural, social, political-of the last few decades, a responsibility that at times is unfair to ask of this brief and small-scaled piece.

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But he must be admired for the effort, and for the amount of time he draws close to his intentions, robust and arresting ideas spinning out continuously line after line. Yet crucially, the performers tame the dialogue, preventing it from freezing over into the purely analytical. Homos, or Everyone in America continues through 1 September




Holiday as myth. As fantasy. As a product of memory. As a philosophy of nostalgia. The artists in this show take the traditional holiday excursion seriously, pushing beyond the transient lighthearted pleasures provided by times away into realms of  profound reflection and contemplation, pondering its lingering intellectual and emotional legacies upon the self. Day Bowman’s abstract, dream-laden beach scenes conjure days both sunny and overcast, the geography and structure of the landscape suggested in swirls, swoops, squiggles and blocks of paint, coalesced filters of youthful experience, a reminiscence of play and imagination; Anna Barlow’s fevered confections (constructed of clay, porcelain and glaze), smashed against walls , in various stages of being consumed, gleam with maniacal artificiality, trivial and ephemeral, but enduring and powerful metaphors of appetite and indulgence, of the excitements of relinquishing responsibility and exiling stress; Kitty Stirling’s found object and memorabilia pieces (comprised of bingo cards and stamps) rescue transitory articles from oblivion and transform them into venerated artefacts of time spent and time passed-and her deconstructed deckchair absurdly and exuberantly celebrates the resolve of the British character in the face of hardship; Judith Tucker and Marguerite Horner’s uneasy works address abandonment and emptiness through eerie uninhabited or anonymous images of neighbourhoods and roadways, Tucker’s paintings of holiday homes after dark especially charged in their anxious absences; Amanda Wallwork’s stratigraphic column and colour code for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site (a 95 mile stretch Dorset and East Devon coastline) reveals not only natural temporal geographic developments of landscape but also the cumulative effects of human movement upon the ground, marks and prints left behind, the (sometimes) tense conversation shared between the two; Sophie Marritt’s video piece is a hazy, blurred bus journey from downtown L.A. to LAX captured on camera phone, revealing a sensibility unmoored, a jumbled trip through alienating concrete underpasses with occasional thrills of incongruent verdant life in sudden, fleeting vision; Jake Clark’s colourful, jocular sculptures are fond interpretations of holiday structures (lighthouses, towers, miniature golf courses, hotel room fixtures), as if a young child, still in thrall to holiday, gathers together available materials to recreate beloved locations and objects; Lydia Blakeley’s febrile, restless collages directly confront systems of manufactured fantasy and their subsequent mental and spiritual fallout, impossible images of aspiration, of not-quite-feasible or attainable reality, triumphs of “false”nostalgia. Quite beyond the practicalities of planning for a holiday, and the physical holiday itself, there exists a nucleus of sensual and fanciful engagement, embedded long-term in the psyche. Getting Away continues through 28 July, then transfers to Quay Arts, Newport, Isle of Wight.