Tag: Nottingham

Review: Intrigue and love in The Rubenstein Kiss at Nottingham Playhouse


Matthew and Anna in The Rubenstein Kiss (c) Robert Day.

Nottingham Playhouse’s Conspiracy Season continued this week with a performance of James Philips’ ambitious and powerful The Rubenstein Kiss.

The story is based closely on that of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the US couple executed in 1953 for their role in handing over secrets of the atomic bomb to Soviet Russia. We are introduced to Jakob Rubenstein and his wife Ethel first as a portrait in an art gallery, in 1970s New York. The pair, who are kissing, attract the attention of two earnest young university students, Matthew and Anna, who become lovers themselves and develop a deep fascination with the Rubensteins.

At first there is nothing to suggest the Rubensteins have anything to do with espionage. At home inside their brownstone New York apartment – the sort of which you’ve seen in countless films and TV programmes – we see a devoted Jewish couple who are looking forward to the return of Ethel’s brother David, who has been stationed abroad during the Second World War. Only later is it revealed that he has been working on developing the first atomic bomb which would later be used on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

At the beginning, there is an air of optimism; David has just returned from the war and Ethel, who often sings joyously, is pleased that he is settling down with his new wife Rachel. There are also plans for him to become a partner in Jakob’s new business venture.

But it’s not long before life for the family takes a darker turn as the business fails and Rachel and David lose their baby. A sense of foreboding starts to take over, and it becomes apparent there are troubling secrets bubbling beneath the surface.

Running alongside this, Matthew and Anna are starting to delve into the lives of the Rubensteins. Matthew, a law student, begins a personal crusade to clear their name, which leads to him uncovering a troubling series of events.

The strength of Rubenstein Kiss no doubt lies in its examination of how the boundaries between the political and personal can be blurred. Jakob’s communist beliefs are unwavering, as he tells us, somewhat chillingly, that ideology is more important than anything and that ‘the ends justify the means’. What is less clear is Ethel’s alignment to the cause although no-one can doubt her devotion to her husband.

This is a long and challenging play which is heavily influenced by Arthur Miller, perhaps a little self-consciously at times. Nevertheless, the actors all delivered magnificent performances and their accents were entirely believable. Some of the most intense moments came from the dialogue between Jakob and the FBI agent, Paul Cramner whose questions mirror our own: how guilty – or innocent – are the Rubensteins?

The Rubenstein Kiss is on at Nottingham Playhouse until 17 October. Visit the website for more details and tickets.

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Palaces of Power: Embarking on a Grand Tour at Nottingham Contemporary

The Grand Tour atNottingham Contemporary

Pablo Bronstein’s Via Appia frames the treasures of Chatsworth  including the coronation thrones and marble foot (c) Andy Keate for Nottingham Contemporary.

When German chancellor Otto von Bismarck proclaimed the second German Empire in 1890, he chose to do so inside the lavish Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in Paris. Long a symbol of power and wealth, this was his way of asserting German authority over the French after years of conflict. Just over a century later, the Hall of Mirrors was chosen by the victorious allies of the First World War as the place where Germany signed the humiliating Treaty of Versailles.

Few things embody the relationship between architecture and power than Versailles. Its baroque style and vast art collections are replicated at palaces around Europe, including Chatsworth House. Nestled in the Derbyshire Peaks, Chatsworth is home to the impressive Devonshire Collection, which includes paintings and drawings by the Old Masters, blue-and-white Delft pottery and ancient sculptures.

This summer 62 pieces from this collection have been brought to Nottingham Contemporary in an exhibition curated by artist Pablo Bronstein. It forms part of The Grand Tour, a cultural experience taking place across four galleries in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. It recreates the grand tours of the 18th and 19th centuries when aristocratic young men – including successive Dukes of Devonshire – would travel across Europe, discovering the treasures of antiquity.

The tour begins with a collection of vast objects, including a pair of coronation chairs for the William IV and Queen Adelaide and a huge bathtub which the gallery attendant helpfully tells me would have been used for show rather than any practical purpose. There is also a Roman foot, dating back to BC 150 – BC 50, which is thought to have been part of a statue of a goddess. Bronstein has produced a series of highly-technical paintings entitled Via Appia, which was a strategic route in Roman times and creates a narrative for these objects. This road not only inspired Renaissance artists such as Michaelangelo, it also shows the journey undertaken by the grand tourists.

The mood in Gallery 2 shifts towards something more introspective. Faux oak-panelled walls display the works of German and Flemish artists such as Franz Hals, Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt. In contrast to the grand pieces in other parts of the exhibition, these pieces are dark and brooding; Dürer’s 15th century etching, The Crucifixion, is imbued with pain and suffering, while Rembrandt’s drawing of the actor Willem Ruyters in his dressing room is intimate and humane.

Elsewhere, the themes of power and wealth resume once again. Huge pieces of silverware and Delft pottery fill cabinets surrounded by pillars and an imposing portrait of the 1st Duke of Devonshire hangs on the wall. Once again, these are juxtaposed with another Bronstein piece, this time a digital drawing of Chatsworth House. The familiar neo-classical building is suspended outside of time and space, giving viewers the chance to see if from different angles. Bronstein seems to be suggesting that art, architecture and power are anchored to their historical context – but that does not mean they are not subject to change.

As part of the Grand Tour, Bronstein is also exhibiting his drawings at Chatsworth’s New Gallery, as well as a large-scale drawing for the Old Master Cabinet Room. Other exhibitions include Wright Revealed: Uncovering Two Lost Paintings at Derby Museum and Elements of Architecture: Corridors and Welbeck Tunnels at the Welbeck Estate in north Notts.

See Pablo Bronstein and the Treasures of Chatsworth at Nottingham Contemporary until 15 September.

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Sets and costume design take centre stage at Bonington Gallery’s Make/Believe

Gary McCann - Die Fledermaus (Credit Bonington Gallery)

Gary McCann – Die Fledermaus (Credit Bonington Gallery)

Who can forget the magical opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games? Or the flamboyant costumes a pantomime? Sometimes it is the minimal sets of a drama – a few plastic stacking chairs against a black background for example – which proves so effective by subtly stirring a mood and concentrating our minds on what’s before us.

All too often design is forced into the background, with critics focussing on the actors’ performances or the script first and foremost. But it is design which lifts a performance above a mere reading or rehearsal – and it is this aspect of theatre which is explored in the Make/Believe exhibition currently showing at Nottingham Trent University’s Bonington Art Gallery.

Created over the past four years, this diverse collection features model boxes for stage sets, costume designs, costumes, props and mood boards which show the relationship between the designer, producer and director. The pieces come from a range of events and productions including the Olympics and Paralympics, as well as plays, ballet opera, pop concerts and more.

Some of the pieces are works of art in their own right and it’s a shame that they don’t normally go on display to the public. The model box for the Merchant of Venice, which comes complete with plush chairs and oak-panelled walls, is incredibly detailed and lets the audience members immerse themselves in this world of money, while the illustrations that accompany the large-scale outdoor events are beautiful.

These contrasted well with a Royal Opera House production of Kafka’s The Metamorphisis in which the clinical, white background is contaminated by a strange black fluid which evokes the physicality of his transformation into an insect. Similarly, the empty-looking brutalist set created for a production of King Lear which captures the cruelty and mental anguish of the play.

Another highlight was the model box created for Brecht’s Threepenny Opera which was performed at Nottingham Playhouse last year. I distinctly remember the unforgiving industrial set, with swathes of ripped red fabric which poked fun of the traditional theatre curtain separating the performers from the audience so seeing it in miniature form was incredible.

Make/Believe is a collaboration between the Society of British Set Designers, V&A museum and Nottingham Trent University. Selected works will go on display at the Prague Quadrennial in June and the V&A from July before going on a nationwide tour in 2016.

The exhibition is showing at Bonington Gallery (Newton Building) until 31st January. Entry is free. 

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In the Shadow of War at Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre

Francis Bacon's Figuure in a Landscape. Credit: Tate

Francis Bacon’s Figuure in a Landscape. Credit: Tate.

Before the explosion of pop art of the 1960s, when the works of David Hockney and Peter Blake heralded a new era of optimism, British art went through a period of deep reflection as the nation began to come to terms with the devastation of the Second World War. This dark period, characterised by grimy industrial landscapes and introspective figures, forms the basis for a beautifully-curated exhibition called In the Shadow of War at Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre.

Featuring an impressive collection of artists, including Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud and Henry Moore, it begins with a series of pieces which highlight how fresh the memory of war was in the 1940s and ‘50s. Auerbach’s Building Site, Victoria Street, London (1959) reminds that the post-War reconstruction was a protracted process. His thickly layered paint creates a viscous feel as if the city is slowly emerging out of the ashes.

Some of the pieces such as Moore’s Falling Warrior (1956-7) references the human cost of war more overtly. It depicts a warrior laying on the ground in defeat which stands in contrast to the idea of the victorious soldier. With its distorted facial features and gaping holes, Eduardo Paolozzi’s bronze statue Shattered Head (1956) evokes the physical and mental anguish of war. Meanwhile, Francis Bacon’s 1945 piece Figure in a Landscape, in which the figure is obscured by a black void, suggests a loss of identity though he is still discernible as a person. Blood-red flowers flicker in the background alluding to death on the battle field, poppies or Nazi uniforms.

Lucien Freud’s portraits – Head of a Girl, Head of a Woman and Portrait of Peter Watson – reveal inward-looking figures who appear to be carrying a heavy burden, although it is impossible to decipher what they are thinking.

The exhibition then moves towards a series of pieces where the connection with war is less obvious but its effects can nevertheless be felt. The pale, vacant faces of L.S. Lowry’s The Funeral Party (1957) references the austerity of the post-War years, while Josef Herman’s Evenfall (1948) is a startling study of a mining village in Wales where life continues despite the hardships people face.

Alongside In the Shadow of War, Lakeside is also hosting a complementary exhibition featuring photographs by Lee Miller. Miller worked with some of the most eminent artists of the early 20th century, including Picasso, Man Ray and Jean Cocteau, she also worked as Vogue’s official photographer during the Second World War. This exhibition features some of the photographs she took during the Allied victory and her images include the liberation of the concentration camps, towns razed to the ground, the suicide of Nazi officials and Hitler’s mountain home in flames.

Looking at these pictures it is almost impossible to believe that Europe was able to rebuild itself following destruction on this scale. Miller’s subjects bear a look of relief but also extreme weariness; you can only imagine how she and the envoys felt as they uncovered the extent of the Nazi atrocities.

The two exhibitions take place ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War next year. Both are free to attend and run until 22nd February.

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Mike Leigh paints a masterful portrait of Turner

Timothy Spall stars as JMW Turner in Mr Turner.

Timothy Spall stars as JMW Turner in Mr Turner.

It can be tempting, when producing a biopic, to focus almost entirely on the positives (see Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist). But in his critically-acclaimed film Mr Turner, Mike Leigh gives us a refreshingly honest character study of his subject, the artist JMW Turner.

Starting with a perfectly-conceived shot of the watery Dutch lowlands, we are introduced to Turner – played by the brilliant Timothy Spall – who is painting lush green fields, farm girls and windmills. He seems to be in his element as he captures the iridescent light which surrounds him.

All this contrasts with Turner’s return to his somewhat chaotic life in London. Grunting and grumpy, he refuses to acknowledge his former wife and daughters and seeks sexual gratification from his housemaid, Hannah Danby (played by Dorothy Atkinson). His painting technique often looks a little ham-fisted and in one scene he spits straight onto the canvas, making it difficult to imagine how he produced such fine pieces.

But what emerges is not simply a caricature but something altogether more complex. Despite his gruffness he is also sensitive and enjoys a tender bond with his father. Later he forms a close relationship with Mrs Booth, the twice-widowed landlady who runs the boarding house in Margate where he found inspiration for his seascapes. And, in an act of philanthropy, he rejects an offer from someone who wants to buy all his work, saying that it will be left to the British public.

There are also some wonderful moments which show Turner’s development as an artist. He is enthralled when the scientist Mary Somerville showed him how a prism can create a spectrum of colours. Unlike some Romantic artists – notably William Blake – Turner did not fear industrialisation; indeed he was excited by the new railways and the construction of London’s Crystal Palace, used to house the Great Exhibition.

Poignantly, however, we see Turner discovering the newly-invented camera and while it holds a fascination for him he also senses that it will change art as he declares, ‘I’m finished’. Little does he realise that his work would go on to inspire the impressionists whose work evolved into the non-representational art that became synonymous with modernism, cubism, formalism and other major movements.

Ultimately, this is a hugely enjoyable film, which does not fawn nor judge its subject. The dialogue, with its archaic lexicon, is superb as is the period detail. But what really stood out to me was the startling cinematography, with land and seascapes bathed in the sort of light that Turner himself might have imagined.

Mr Turner is showing at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema until 20th November.

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The rise and fall of the King of the Mountains

Lance Armstrong, left, and Marco Pantani.

Lance Armstrong, left, and Marco Pantani.

When the Tour de France swept through Yorkshire earlier this summer it seemed that professional cycling had won the heart of the nation once again. Seeing the crowds of people lining the streets, and witnessing the almighty cheers as I did on Sheffield’s Jenkin Road, it is difficult to believe that just a few years the sport had been embroiled in doping scandals.

One of those lost generation of cyclists was Marco Pantani, whose life and untimely death at the age of 34 is the subject of a new film, Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist, which screened Nottingham’s Broadway cinema on Monday. Known for his almost ability to destroy his opponents on the most gruelling mountain climbs – not to mention his capacity to clock up speeds of up to 100km per hour on the descents – he made history when he claimed victory at both the Giro D’Italia and Tour de France in 1998.

At its heart this documentary is about the purity of cycling and its solitary nature, as well as the human desire to tackle the most unforgiving terrain. It follows the a young Pantani rise through the ranks to become a professional cyclist with legions of adoring fans who referred to him affectionately as ‘The Pirate’. In the archive film footage of the great tours, the dramatic mountains provide the backdrop to Pantani’s feats of endurance. We also see him come back from a devastating cycling accident which almost left him unable to walk let alone cycle. These scenes are punctuated with poignant, funny and insightful interviews with his mother, journalists and fellow cyclists, including Sir Bradley Wiggins.

But of course the sport, and Pantani’s successes, were overshadowed by the practice of doping, the practice of boosting the number of red blood cells so that more oxygen reaches the muscles. In 1999, Pantani was disqualified from the Giro following an irregular blood test – and it was something he never truly got over. He descended into a spiral of cocaine abuse and eventually died alone in his hotel room in 2004.

Overall, this is a poetic film which offers a fascinating portrait of a super-human cyclist whose iron will was crushed by allegations of doping. The level of his involvement is left somewhat ambiguous and there is the suggestion that he was a victim of corrupt doctors, sponsors and the pressures faced by professional cyclists. Any idea of wrong-doing is glossed over by the interviewees – but ultimately, viewers are invited to make up their own minds about whether his achievements are diminished by the allegations.

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D. H. Lawrence Festival: The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd at Lakeside Arts Centre

lawrence2This year’s D. H. Lawrence Festival came to a close last week with a performance of his 1911 play The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd at Lakeside Arts Centre. Drawing on many of the autobiographical themes that would haunt his later work, Lawrence gives us a terse account family breakdown and death in a Nottinghamshire mining community.

The play draws heavily on his earlier work, Odour of Chrysanthemums, a beautifully descriptive short story full of potent symbolism. The play is set in a dismal, rat-infested pit cottage. Lizzie Holroyd is waiting for her husband to come home – she has been told that he has been drinking at the pub and sure enough he comes home inebriated with a couple of bawdy women in tow.

But the following day, Lizzie learns that her husband has been killed in a pit accident and in the final scene she and her mother-in-law receive his body, wash it and dress it while lamenting where everything went wrong. But there are no clear resolutions; Mr Holroyd’s behaviour is of course difficult to stomach yet there is the suggestion that he is not entirely to blame for the disintegration of their marriage.

Although this was a rehearsed reading, with all the actors appearing script-in-hand, it was it was a gut-wrenching piece of theatre and all the actors put on passionate performances. The Nottinghamshire dialect was delivered accurately by all the actors, particularly the one who played the feckless Mr Holroyd. Although Lawrence is not widely-known for his drama this piece proves that he was an accomplished playwright who was able to create vivid characters and dialogue. Let’s hope we see it on stage again in the near future.

For details on what’s on at D. H. Lawrence Heritage in Eastwood visit the website.

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Review: Engaging performance on the streets of Nottingham

Jamie Lewis Hadley during the performance (c) Lamar Francois (www.picturedbylamar.co.uk)

Jamie Lewis Hadley during the performance (c) Lamar Francois.

It was Friday night and a large crowd of people had gathered outside Twenty Eight barber’s shop in Hockley. The weekend had just begun and all around us revellers were strolling past, looking for a pub or bar to visit and occasionally stopping to see what was going on.

We were there to watch a show by performance artist Jamie Lewis Hadley called Blood on the Streets. Standing in the window at Twenty Eight, and with a pair of speakers to ensure that he could be heard, Jamie presented a lecture on the beliefs around blood letting through the ages. The window, which was put to good use as a blackboard during the show, also made the metaphorical ‘fourth wall’ of theatre something quite tangible, creating a barrier between the audience. It was almost as if the performer was encased in a glass box like the subject of a science experiment.

During the show we learned some of the facts behind blood letting in the past, such as why people would rather go to a barber’s shop than a doctor (it was cheaper) and how the first blood transfusion was administered. It all culminated in Dr Belinda Fenty taking a pint of blood from Jamie as he continued to deliver his lecture, despite seeming to be slightly uncomfortable at one point. Thanks to the glass window it was possible to see how the various audience reactions, which ranged from mild shock to gruesome fascination and reminded me on how surgical procedures were once seen as a form of entertainment. As a regular blood donor, however, I wasn’t particularly troubled by it – in fact it made me think how sanitised the process now is.

Ultimately, what made this performance so engaging was Jamie’s style. He managed to deliver it as a lecture but he also had the style of a street performer – which is perhaps why he attracted such a large crowd, many of whom were simply intrigued by what was going on.

Blood on the Streets was hosted in Nottingham by Little Wolf Parade. Photo reproduced with kind permission from Lamar Francois.

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There will be blood . . . performance piece set to chart the history of blood letting

Blood letting during the Middle Ages.

Blood letting has been a common medical practice throughout the ages.

We all know the story of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street who slit his customers’ throats with a razor blade. But throughout history and across different cultures blood letting has been highly prized because many people believed it had healing properties. Now the this ancient belief is the subject of a unique lecture/performance called Blood on the Streets which will take place, appropriately enough, at Twenty Eight barber’s shop on Friday evening.

The piece has been devised by performance artist Jamie Lewis Hadley and Dr Belinda Fenty who will be examining the history of bloodletting as a medical practice, tracing its roots in ancient medicine, the rise of the barber-surgeon and our current understanding of this incredible substance. Through a combination of live text, projected images and re-enactment, the key figures, instruments and often unbelievable techniques will be revealed.

Jamie, who has showcased his work in the UK, USA, Canada, South Africa, France, Lithuania and Croatia, uses his experience as a professional wrestler as a departure point to create live performances based on blood, deterioration, endurance, pain and violence. His current area of research and creative is based the history of bloodletting as a medical practice – and during this performance, he will have a pint of blood extracted from his arm by an experienced doctor.

Blood on the Streets will premiere in Nottingham on 27th June at 7.30pm and is hosted by the city-based performance art group Little Wolf Parade. To obtain your FREE ticket visit this website.


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neat14: Chilling performance weaves a web of intrigue around Litvinenko

Tea annyone?

Tea anyone?

I can remember all too clearly the footage of Alexander Litvinenko as he lay dying in a hospital bed in 2006 having apparently been poisoned with a lethal dose of polonium-210. In a speech, read out on his behalf, the former Russian security agent, who had been working for MI6 and the Spanish secret service, pointed the finger squarely at president Vladimir Putin and his cronies. Very little is known about the circumstances of his death. We know that he went for tea with two Russian men at a hotel in London but since then the trail has gone cold and an inquest is yet to open.

The scant facts about his life form the basis of 2Magpies’ latest production, The Litvinenko Project which I saw last week as part of neat14. Performed at Edin’s café, this is a piece of site-responsive theatre which made full use of its environment. We are shown to a table by Tom Barnes and Matt Wilks, the duo behind 2Magpies, and told to help ourselves to the pot of green tea on the table – something which that took on a sinister quality that Litvinenko had gone out for tea just before he was murdered.

We are then introduced to Litvinenko the man. We learn that he is a husband to Marina and a father to a young boy called Anatoli. He loves to dance the tango and having lived in London he is acutely aware of the differences between Russian and British cultures, not least the difference in tea drinking customs: the British brew theirs in teapots for a short period of time while the Russians allow theirs to stew in a samovar until it becomes highly concentrated. But his daily routine of eating breakfast with his family is interrupted by an ominous voice repeating over and over again one of things we truly know: “Alexander Litvinenko is going to die.”

What follows is a tremendously energetic yet chilling piece of theatre. Matt and Tom play every role but they draw the audience in, asking them to take on different parts and by the end we were all – quite literally –  bound up in this web of intrigue. There was no stage set but the props, which included a raw chicken, a mop and a samovar which doubled as a football trophy, were cleverly used and the dialogue, at times reminiscent of a court case or detective story, was superb. Meanwhile, the public setting also added to the strength of this performance and there was a real feeling that anything could happen. From downstairs I could hear the everyday conversations of the customers drift upwards which contrasted well with the dark nature of the play. Indeed, it made me think of all the people in London who had no idea that a Cold War-era style murder was being plotted until it was too late.

Just before the play started, Tom told us that The Litvinenko Project had been evolving over a period of around six months and during that time Russia had rarely been out of the news. From the arrest of the politically-charged band Pussy Riot, to the anti-homosexuality laws and the recent invasion of Ukraine, suspicion the West is growing increasingly suspicious of Russia – and The Litvinenko is becoming even more relevant. Let’s hope it is performed again in the near future.

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