Ollie (Charles Reston) is stripped in Stripped in more ways than one – answering an advertisement for nude models, he calls at Lola’s (Antonia Kinlay) workshop. Interestingly, he’s not done this before, so why now? And why this pose wearing nothing at all for this artist, as opposed to another? As it happens (and I have no intention of (ahem) revealing everything, so to speak) they have met before, though it takes a considerable amount of icebreaking on both parties to get to the point of reaching an understanding of sorts.
There’s something incredibly British about the conversational approach taken by both model and artist – she would like him to minimise chatter in order to concentrate on drawing, but he refuses to do so, not so much by refusing to be silent but simply by continuing to talk. Just as well, because if anything that would make for an even shorter play than this one already is. There are twelve still life nude drawings on Lola’s wall: I had time to count them, twice – make of that what you will. That said, subtle humour permeates the play. Although it follows a pattern found often enough in modern plays of everything ticking along reasonably well before a critical incident shatters the characters’ lives irreparably, in this case, the damage had already been done, but it is only at this juncture that there is an opportunity for the truth to be revealed both to the wronged party and the perpetrator.
The play does well to portray Ollie as someone who thinks he has a good grasp of the world at large, asserting, for instance, that art is by its nature inherently political. But he has his equal in Lola, who rebuts, without being preachy, that life drawing – her art – is mere observation, without consideration given to context or political viewpoints. And so, the conversation twists and turns, meandering through, until slowly but surely the truth about what really went on during their previous encounter unravels. As the title of a 2016 film put it, it ain’t pretty.
It hardly takes a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon to work out that as Ollie stands (then stretches out his arms, then sits, then kneels, and so on, according to Lola’s wishes for various poses) with no clothes on that this slowly turns into a metaphor for being defenceless and vulnerable in the face of new (to him) information about his actions some years ago. Lola’s suggested remedy – if that’s the right word – is an intriguing one. I remain doubtful that it would be feasible across the board (Lola seems to think it could potentially become a movement of some description or other) but it does work well here, if only because Ollie is so willing to learn from his transgression.
It is difficult at times to find empathy with either character when so much is said all round that turns out to be untrue. In some ways, the play asks more questions than it resolves, to the point where the show felt rather incomplete – this is a story to be continued. What then happens to the characters? It is, as ever, better to leave the audience wanting more than to outlast one’s welcome.
This curious piece of theatre has much food for thought. It was not always easy to follow, but nonetheless held my attention throughout.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Ollie is a self-proclaimed Beta Male. He’s into ultimate frisbee, vegan barbecues and playing the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat. When he volunteers to model nude for an artist, he’s hell-bent on showing her just how woke he is. Lola just wants to draw him.
When he won’t let her get on with it, Lola decides to teach him a lesson. Soon, Ollie starts asking if he can have his clothes back.
NEW WRITING AT LONDON’S OLDEST PUB THEATRE
BITTER PILL THEATRE PRESENT
Written by Hew Rous-Eyre. Directed by Max Elton. Designed by Felipe Miranda. Lighting by Ben
Jacobs. Sound by Piers Sherwood-Roberts. Cast: Antonia Kinlay. Charles Reston.
King’s Head Theatre
115 Upper St, N1 1QN