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Hogarth’s Progress by Nick Dear at The Rose Theatre Kingston

Hogarth's Progress - The Art of Success. Ruby Bentall (Jane Hogarth) & Jasmine Jones (Sarah Sprackling). Credit - Manuel Harlan
Hogarth’s Progress – The Art of Success. Ruby Bentall (Jane Hogarth) & Jasmine Jones (Sarah Sprackling). Credit – Manuel Harlan

Hogarth’s Progress is a double bill written by Nick Dear and directed by Anthony Banks. Taken together and watched in one day they make for the perfect immersive experience of 18th Century London and the life and work of William Hogarth ( 1697-1764). The Art of Success was written in 1986 whilst its companion piece The Taste of the Town is having its world premiere. The cast, creative and crew are of the highest quality.

William Hogarth is best known for his print, Gin Lane (1751) in which a baby topples from its mother’s arms down a steep stairwell as she gets drunk on cheap gin. It’s a deeply disturbing image for which Hogarth is rightly famous. Nick Dear has written two plays which bring Hogarth alive as never before. In The Art of Success (good pun in the title: how to become a successful artist but also how to achieve success), we meet the young Hogarth (Bryan Dick) as he battles to make his way in the face of snobbery and condescension from the Quality in 1730s Covent Garden. As a cockney from Smithfield meat market Hogarth is dismissed as uneducated, lacking in Latin and has not been abroad on the Grand Tour and so he has no business trying to become an artist.

Bryan Dick is fantastic as the young Hogarth. With his cockney accent and Anglo Saxon epithets, he is superb as he shows how Hogarth fought his way to wealth and artistic recognition. Hogarth realised that the key to making money was to bypass the Nobs and go straight to the paying customer by making multiple copies of his work as prints. This he does but comes up against pirates who steal his work. So to protect his work Hogarth uses his contact Prime Minister Robert Walpole to get the Hogarth Act or Engravers Copyright Act passed in Parliament in 1735. But now The Art of Success gets messy because to get the Act passed Hogarth has to agree not to print his intended satire on The Prime Minister. Such are the compromises Art has to make to Power. So in this moment we see one of the key themes of both plays. The relationship between Art and Power. Art wants to speak truth to power but if you need to make a living that’s not always possible. This is compounded if like Hogarth you have no family money. Much easier for a Trustafarian to be an independent artist than for a Hogarth.

Ben Deery and Keith Allen in Taste of the Town - Credit Manuel Harlan
Ben Deery and Keith Allen in Taste of the Town – Credit Manuel Harlan

In the best scene from The Art of Success, Hogarth visits Sarah Sprackling (Jasmine Jones, wonderful) a convicted murderess the day before her hanging in Newgate Jail. Hogarth has mixed motives, he wants to capture her image so that she will live forever but also he wants to make some £ by selling prints asap after her death. This dark scene in her dark cell explores these moral ambiguities. Sarah Sprackling is unhappy with Hogarth’s depiction, (“…that’s not me…” ) moreover she doesn’t want it published as a print, she demands it back. “It’s my image”, she insists. It’s a bit like native Americans refusing to be photographed for fear it took away their souls. For my £ this was the heart of the play and worth the ticket price alone.

In the second play The Taste of the Town, we move thirty years on and Hogarth ( Keith Allen) has retired to Chiswick with his wife Jane (Susannah Harker) and his dog. If The Art of Success dealt with Hogarth’s fight against the snobs then The Taste of The Town deals with his fight to establish English Artists as equal to the Italians and other foreigners. Hogarth is determined to show that he can paint as well as any Correggio or Poussin. To do so he uses his wife Jane as a model for his version of Sigismunda Mourning over the Heart of Guiscardo (1759). As a Correggio had sold for £404 the previous year Hogarth is adamant that his painting shall command a price to match. The play climaxes with his meeting with Horace Walpole( Ian Hallard) son of Robert Walpole – like his father Prime Minister but of Taste not Politics – at his gothic mansion in Twickenham, Strawberry Hill, still there of course. Ian Hallard is superb as the camp, art snob and connoisseur (like an eighteen century Brian Sewell with a cut-glass accent to boot) who agrees to pay £404 for the Sigismunda but to Hogarth’s horror he wants to put it in a shop window as an example of bad English Art. Outraged Hogarth tears up the cheque.

There is so much to enjoy from over four hours of exhilarating entertainment. The eleven-strong ensemble are all superb. Sylvestra Le Touzel as Lady Thornhill is up there with Mrs Malaprop and Lady Bracknell for sheer comic delight. Her derisive dismissal of “Chiswick” (“Chis ICK” is not to be missed). Keith Allen gives us Hogarth warts and all and as the post-stroke Hogarth, he is astonishingly good. Andrew Edwards’ sets and costumes are superb. As are Douglas O’Connell’s video and projection designs. A wonderful double bill which brings us as close to eighteenth-century London as we are ever likely to get.

5 Star Rating

Review by John O’Brien

Hogarth’s Progress is a riotous double-bill of comedies by BAFTA Award winner Nick Dear, following one of Britain’s most celebrated artists on two monumental pub crawls. The plays explore the extraordinary lives of William and Jane Hogarth at a time when culture escaped from the grasp of the powerful into the hands of the many.

Full cast for Nick Dear’s double-bill Hogarth’s Progress.
Anthony Banks directs Bryan Dick as the younger William Hogarth in the first major UK revival of Dear’s acclaimed comedy The Art of Success, which follows Hogarth through a bawdy night in 1730 and Keith Allen as the older William Hogarth in the world première of The Taste of the Town which rejoins the now hugely successful artist 30 years later towards the end of his career. Ruby Bentall (Jane Hogarth and Nancy/Mrs Ryott), Emma Cunniffe (Louisa and Mrs Colquhoun/Mrs Bascombe), Ben Deery (Frank and Zachariah Blunt), Jack Derges (Henry Fielding and Parson Venables), Ian Hallard (Oliver and Horace Walpole), Susannah Harker (Queen Caroline and Jane Hogarth), Jasmine Jones (Sarah Sprackling and Bridget), Sylvestra Le Touzel (Mrs Needham and Lady Thornhill) and Mark Umbers (Robert Walpole and David Garrick) complete the company.

Director: Anthony Banks; Set & Costume Designer: Andrew D Edwards
Video and Projection Designer: Douglas O’Connell; Lighting Designer: James Whiteside
Music: Olly Fox; Sound Designer: Max Pappenheim; Casting Director: Stuart Burt
Fight Directors: Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown for Rc-Annie
Movement: Naomi Said

Rose Theatre Kingston’s
World première of
Hogarth’s Progress
The Art of Success & The Taste of the Town
A double-bill by Nick Dear
Directed by Anthony Banks

At: Rose Theatre Kingston
24-26 High Street, Kingston, KT1 1HL
13 September – 21 October 2018
Hogarth’s Progress: The Taste Of The Town Tickets
Hogarth’s Progress: The Art Of Success Tickets


  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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