When the cast arrive on stage using the same entrance as the audience you know it’s going to be an intimate production, a thought seconded when it’s a cast of one. This was my first time in Jermyn Street theatre, and as doors were shut, gates closed and toilets no longer available because it meant joining the actor on stage you wondered just how intense this was going to get.
Luckily A Victorian Eye is a not only a lesson in solid acting and tight story telling, but also one in self-restraint.
It is the story of the artist, Sir William Blake Richmond, as told by the man himself. He arrives home to his beloved studio where he is bombarded by memories, and so journeys back through his life. Starting as the son of portraitist George Richmond, he becomes a painter in his own right, a husband, a father, before capping his career off with his “dream” commission.
As the soul cast member, Nigel Dunbar has the play resting entirely on his shoulders. It’s up to him to keep things interesting and this is something he excels in. His performance is a master class of how to engage with an audience without talking directly at them, acknowledging their presence through tone of voice and body language. Monologues can sometimes be jarring, not very natural and for the most past Dunbar makes it feel like it’s an everyday occurrence.
This is helped by the set, Richmond’s studio, containing a variety of artefacts the artist rifles through to inspire memories and give context to the audience. Paintings are displayed and discussed before being put back, all by Dunbar, who again makes it look so natural. There is really only one visual effect, and this worked so beautifully with in the theme of memory I won’t dare spoil it.
As I have said, Nigel Dunbar’s performance is excellent, though some times it was a little too straight forward, his delivery a little safe. He could come across more a welcoming host, eager to have a conversation but not to talk openly and honestly. It was when he was discussing art and technique that his passion really came across, and this is where the play shone. But I felt for a man at the end of his life, abandoned by both family and society, shouldn’t he be just a little more bitter, slightly angrier?
The structure of recollection, with a chronological skeleton that branched off, worked well, easy to follow but also anecdotal, a good mix. Saying that, it wouldn’t have harmed things to have him pausing for a couple of seconds to ponder an event, maybe backtracking and correcting himself a couple of times. When something is too rehearsed it lacks a feeling of honesty, and this was the case on occasion.
All that aside this is an engaging play, expertly lead single handily by a skilled performer with both sensitivity and humour. The action is beautifully broken down with lighting and music, helping the audience along this personal journey. Forgive the pun when I say that it paints a fantastic portrait not only of one of this country’s most skilled painters, but also of one of this country’s most dynamic cultural shifts. A good show but maybe more for art fans.
Review by Max Sycamore @Pheatreland
30th July to 17th August 2013
Atlantic Screen Productions presents A VICTORIAN EYE by Rory Fellowes
Directed by Maureen Payne-Hahner
Production Designer Tim Dann
Lighting Designer David W. Kidd
Costume Designer Lyn Avery
For show details and ticket information visit:
Thursday 1st August 2013