Studies for a Portrait

Daniel Reitz
Good Night Out Presents
King's Head Theatre

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As the sound of the waves lap against the shore, an old man returns to his house by the sea to work and to die. But this is no ordinary man, no ordinary house and no ordinary work. Julian Barker (John Atterbury,) a painter whose work resides in the Museum of Modern Art alongside that of Jackson Pollock, has a house in the Hamptons as well as pancreatic cancer. Accompanied by his young lover, Chad (Travis Oliver), he is full of the brutal honesty and bitchy one liners a creative genius like Julian can afford. Besides, Chad, whilst managing his lover's life, will also inherit all of his wealth by setting up a foundation for the painter's enduring legacy.

But they are not alone in their relationship. Roaming round the house mostly in his speedos and little else, is Justin (Tristam Summers), the 23 year old underwear model whom Chad is also dating. And finally, in the background, is Marcus (Simon Wright), Julian's bitter ex, whose 18 year relationship was supplanted when the young Chad wandered on to the scene. Desperate for money and recognition, and his place back by Julian's side, Chad and Marcus bicker over access to the talented man and question who can really claim ownership to influencing these great works of art.

With issues of polygamous relationships, creative jealousy and dying love, this play provides a highly absorbing picture of the rich, homosexual lifestyle it portrays. With a slow pace and beautifully crafted soundtrack (with music by Boy George) director Adam Spreadbury-Maher creates an air of stealth until 'The Pivotal Moment', as the artist would say. In the background is Kate Guinness' stylish and understated white set, perfect for putting the dark corners of this play in relief. While the dialogue crackles the painful emotions run riot, and we see each man one after the other try to turn the situation to their advantage.

Why then, on a busy Friday night, was the theatre half empty? This play has already been produced at The White Bear and The Oval House in 2009, and it now takes residencey at The King's Head for eight weeks. Possibly this is too long. Whilst it's a stylish piece that draws you in with bitter intrigue, it somehow leaves you without a sense of seeing something new. A satisfying picture of enduring, unconventional relationships, that has little room for monogamy, which develop over time and become something deeper than just the need to be a partner in a pair. However being accompanied by the visual excess of flesh did something to cheapen this, and eventually those who kept their clothes on became the far more engaging characters. Despite the odd initial slip into Irish this is a very well acted piece, with Atterbury embodying the cantankerous old creative. And Simon Wright provides the perfect balance to this in his struggling, suffering, portrayal of Marcus.

A great team, creating a beautiful production, with sharp dialogue and passionate characters that ultimately leaves you without a lasting message, is a somehow regretful evening out. The course of true love never did run smooth.

Reviewer: Sacha Voit

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