Roger Barrington

SWAPS – Photographs from the David Hurn Collection at the National Museum of Wales by Roger Barrington

A new photography gallery has been introduced at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, and to launch it, an exhibition of photographs from the vast David Hurn Collection is on display.

Thomas Babington Macaulay, the eminent British historian and politician, when referring to John Milton wrote, ‘[his words] are words of enchantment. No sooner are they pronounced, than the past is present and the distant near… and all the burial-places of memory give up their dead’. The same could be applied to documentary photography and its cousin photojournalism.

We all know that memory plays tricks. At 9.15. am on 21st October 1966, a huge piece of water-saturated debris accumulated from a century’s heap of coal spoil, descended upon Pantglas Junior School and other buildings in the Welsh village of Aberfan. In the aftermath, 116 children and 28 adults had perished, victims initially of the greed and indifference of the original mine owners, and latterly, the National Coal Board.

As a ten-year old boy, (the same age as many of the victims), this had, and continues to have, a profound influence on me. “There by the grace of God” is an appropriate thought. At the exact time of the disaster, I was seated in my classroom, safe and sound in an environment that all children should feel at school, only separated by the Brecon Beacons from Aberfan. I remember passing through Aberfan the following evening, returning from Cardiff, and seeing the floodlights set up for the rescuers in an ever-diminishing sense of hope of pulling out any of the victims alive. Was it my mother, or a friend of my mother’s, who came across an obviously distressed elderly lady in recon market, who after enquiring if she was alright, said that her granddaughter was a young student at that school. The unreliability of memory.

David Hurn, an established 32-year old documentary photographer at the time,  felt that he had to be there. Not only to capture the scene, but to try and portray the anger felt by so many, as to why this tragedy occurred.

 The sombre scene, heightened by the grim realism of using back and white film, gives a very strong message. Two schoolfriends look down at the scene of the disaster, with, (possibly the elder one) having his arm placed around the other. Are they brothers? Are they classmates of some of the victims, coming to terms with the realisation that they won’t ever see their friends again? Does it also show the strong bond of community, prevalent in the Valleys of South Wales to this day? An “us against the world” mentality, which would be a very suitable and understandable feeling after what had happened here. Is this a spontaneous photograph, or did David Hurn set it up as a composition? Documentary photographers rarely do this, so I would expect Mr. Hurn to answer in the negative. Does it really matter if he did, because for me, it neither degrades or elevates the power of this photograph. How can the viewer look at it, in terms of memory? Possibly as a revenant, a ghost-like spirit returning to this exact time and place, or as a stranger, going back to an area that he/she once knew, but alienated from it through the passage of time and physical difference to the landscape?

At this point, I should point out that this photograph does NOT appear in the exhibition currently on display at the National Museum of Wales. David Hurn, although born in Redhill in Surrey, eight two years ago, is considered to be a Welsh photographer. Brought up in Cardiff, as a young boy he paid a considerable amount of time visiting the Art Galley of this wonderful museum, and it left a very strong mark on him, because earlier this year, he donated two fabulous collections. The one, amounting to around 1,500 of his own work and the other, the subject of this exhibition, prints that he had swapped with other photographers whose work he admires. The photograph above does from part of the donated body of his own work, and I enquired with Bronwen Colquhoun, the recently appointed Senior Curator of the Photograph Department at the NMW, as to whether, at some time, it will be on display, and she answered in the affirmative. The reason why it appears in this review is to hopefully illustrate how powerful an image of documentary photography can be. All other photographs that appear here, do form part of the exhibition.

The display is located in one large room and is set up in such a way, (although it is not readily apparent to the viewer unless they are very well acquainted with David Hurn’s collection of swaps), that it forms a logical pattern.

The starting point should be a photograph that David Hurn, as an unknown photographer acquired from the already famous Chilean photographer Sergio Larrain. David was photographing pigeons at Trafalgar Square in London in 1958, when he was approached by another photographer doing the same thing. This photographer turned out to be Larrain, someone who David hugely admired at that time, and continued to do so, after forging a strong friendship, until the Chilean’s death in 2012. David couldn’t believe his luck. Not only did he gain the opportunity to meet one of his idols. Sergio was very complimentary about the way that he was going about taking his photographs. Over a coffee, Sergio told David that he felt that he had a future ahead as a professional photographer, but he felt a little skeptical, as he preferred to capture everyday life rather than important newsworthy events. After admiring some prints that Sergio had taken, he was given some of them as a gift, a very unusual occurrence at that time. So, this is where what has become a collection second to none, and valued at over three and a half million pounds.

SERGIO LARRAINE – ‘From the Monument

‘A Los Dos Congresos’

Buenos Aires 1957-58

The question as to whether the result is either a spontaneous shot or contrived, doesn’t come into question with the next photograph that I am referring to, that is, unless they super-glued the bird’s feet to the ground.

ELLIOTT ERWITT -Florida Keys 1968

Erwitt is known for his ironic and absurdist photographs and the humour in this photograph is there for everyone to see. It illustrates the opportunistic nature and photographer’s eye to perfection.

HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON -Henri Matisse in his studio with his doves, 1944

Henri Cartier-Bresson is regarded as one of the great photographer in history of candid shots. In the next photograph, we see such a print of the French modernist artist Henri Matisse, holding and surrounded by doves. The peace and tranquility that Cartier-Bresson captures is almost poetic.

It used to be considered for a photographer to sign his work, a rather pompous act of self-grandeur. This print has a dedication, “for David H l’ami Henri C-B” a method sometimes used to get around this signature problem.  Cartier-Bresson was another photography who David greatly admires. When the Frenchman visited David’s flat to view some of his prints, it was almost if God himself had walked in, he recollects in a filmed interview.

As David’s fame increases, he became braver in asking photographers to swap prints. This is exactly what he did when he approached Dorothy Lange on a trip to the US. Lange you may know, is famous for her “dust bowl” photographs taken in the American Prairies at the height of the Great Depression. Her iconic photography “Migrant Mother”, perhaps more than any other image, eipitomises this period of American history, also immortalized in John Steinbeck’s, “The Grapes of Wrath”.

DOROTHEA LANGE – White Angel Breadline San Francisco, 1932

The grimness of this time is captured in this photograph that Dorothy swapped with David. You see a shabbily dress middle-aged man, (maybe wearing his only clothes) facing the camera and a group of other men turned the other way around. The man is clutching a mug. Could this be his only procession? The photograph gives the impression of resigned hopelessness. The other figures possibly representing how society has turned its back on the subject of this image.

As you enter the room, if you turn your attention to the left side wall, you will see a small group of photographs that represent photographers who started out the same time as David trying to establish themselves in a highly competitive market. These people and David used to get together in coffee bars in London in the 1950’s and offer critical opinion, and offer support to one another. The photos on view represent the work of John Bulmer, Patrick Ward, Ian Berry, Philip Jones Griffiths and Sir Don McCullin.

 

JOHN BULMER -Untitled from the Series North, 1960’s

On the Internet, this colour photograph has a different title “Woman Hanging out Washing) Tipton. This town is Halifax.

 

PATRICK WARD – Blackpool 1960’s or 1970’s

October in Blackpool, and sheltering on the Golden Mile from the wind among Deckchairs

This photograph taken on a windy day in October with the waves crashing in and a deck chair attendant taking shelter from the wind by surrounding himself with his hirable goods reading a book. Blackpool pier is in the background. Is there anywhere more desolate than a British seaside resort out of season? For that matter, in season also! Ward captures this feeling, and you can’t help wondering, why is this man bothering? Perhaps he has no choice.

IAN BERRY -New Year’s Eve at Trafalgar Square 1960

The pursed lips of the young lady in the foreground asks, is she just about to do the kissing or is she waiting for her partner to kiss her.

Berry was the only photographer to capture the massacre at Sharpeville, but here we see him capturing an intimate scene in happier times.

PHILIP JONES GRIFFITHS -Vietnam, 1967

This image shows a Vietnamese woman tagged with the designation VNC (Vietnamese civilian). This powerful photograph suggests to me the degradation and reduction of the value of humanity, labelling in such a way that you might do with a suitcase or an exhibit in a museum. Jones Griffiths, a fellow Welsh photographer made his name covering the Vietnam War.

SIR DON MCCULLIN – Biafra 1968

This poignant photograph shows a young twenty-four-year-old woman with a suckling baby who is looking for milk that she can’t obviously provide through the emaciated condition.

David comments on this photograph by describing this woman’s dignity of expression. You feel that if anyone can get through this and come out on the right side, then she is that woman. He also compliments the skill of his friend Don by saying that the trust that the subject has for the photographer is exemplified by the fact that she is looking directly at the photographer, allowing such an intimate portrait to be taken.

In 1965, David was asked to apply for membership of Magnum Photographs. This commercial body was founded in Paris in 1947. Among the co-founders were Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capra. The latter you may recall took arguably the most powerful image of war, “The Falling Soldier” taken during the Spanish Civil War. Capra, whose life was tragically cut short at the age of 40, when he stepped on a land-mine during the First Indochina War, in 1954 swapped this photo with David.

ROBERT CAPRA – French woman who has had a baby fathered by a German soldier, being marched through the streets after being punished by having her head shaved. Chartres, France 1944

What struck me about this photograph is the stark image of the baby, tenderly being held by this mother, on contrast to the hatred and derision of the crowds. Innocence the Baby versus.  War -Hatred as a result of conflict.

MAGNUM PHOTOS

Magnum Photos is still flourishing today and provides a marketplace for photographers who was members to sell their work. It also, according to Cartier-Bresson is “ Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually”. The criteria for membership is strictly enforced and passes through two stages – Associate and Full Membership. David became an Associate member in 1965 and a full member two years later.

As you enter the exhibition, you are greeted by a huge number of photographs, all taken by members of Magnum Photos. Photographers such as Eve Arnold, Martin Parr, Peter Marlow and Thomas Hoepker to name a few.

EVE ARNOLD A Baby’s first five minutes, 1959

The stark black background accentuates the tender and intimate touching of a baby’s tiny fragile hand. A photograph that touchingly shows the unique bond between mother and child.

MARTIN PARR – New Brighton 1983-86

Martin Parr, another long-term friend of David, took a set of photographs depicting the Wirral seaside resort of New Brighton, once a prominent location for day-trippers and tourists to the town, now in a state of decline, but still having an active scene.

PETER MARLOW -David Beckham London, 1999

A candid photograph of a relaxed looking David Beckham at the height of his pomp.

 THOMAS HOEPKER – Andy Warhol in his ‘Factory’Union Square 1981

One of a set of quirky photographs taken in NYC of this iconic subject.

TEACHING

In 1973, David turned to teaching and founded the School of Documentary Photography in Newport, Gwent. A section to the right of the room is dedicated to some of his students who were able to forge successful careers in photography. A photograph that particularly interested me is by Abergavenny-born Sue Packer and adorns the cover image of her publication, “Cheltenham Ladies – A Portrait of Cheltenham Ladies College.

SUE PACKER – Cheltenham Ladies, 1984

There are no smiling adolescent young ladies here. In fact, you could almost accuse them of being sullen in some instances. Is this a statement of the difficult road ahead of them, possibly as females when setting out on their careers? Cheltenham Ladies College is one of the most prestigious public school institutions for girls in England.  Does their privileged backgrounds account for their provocative expresses? Could it be a sexual provocation? It is an intriguing photograph and not difficult to see why it has been the subject of a David Hurn swap.

David’s reputation is such nowadays that to be asked to swap a photograph with him, is a testament to your own arrival as a photographer of renown.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID HURN IN THE EXHIBITION

Although the exhibition is not about photographs that David Hurn took himself, Bronwen  Colquhoun managed to persuade him to include three of then. In order to tie in with the theme of the exhibition, these photographs are the ones that David is asked to swap himself.

Taken from Arizona Trip, a forthcoming publication, (November 2017), of a collection of photographs that David took at the back end of the 1970’s in that state. The photograph captures a landscape that will be eradicated when building developers move in shortly after it was taken.

SUMMARY

This magnificent collection of 700 + swaps, many which are presented in this exhibition is a remarkable coup for the National Museum of Wales. In his own words, David says that he only would donate these collections if the NMW started its own dedicated gallery for photography. Photograph galleries are a relatively recent feature, beginning in the late 1960’s as purely commercial enterprises. Galleries in terms of providing a viewing platform for the pleasure and education of the viewers came later, but it is still a little surprising that it has taken the NMW so long to set up its own gallery. Bronwen Colquhoun says that the intention is for exhibitions to change at roughly six-monthly intervals and drawn from a rich treasury of photographs showing Welsh cultural, historical, industrial and social life. The David Hurn Swaps Collection is the perfect instrument to kick-start this important new feature at the National Museum of Wales.

5 Stars5 / 5

On from now to 11 March 2018

Admission: Free

Venue: National Museum of Wales

Suitability: All

David Hurn will be conducting a talk about the Collection at the museum on the 20th October 2017. Admission is free, but I have been informed that it is advisable to book now to avoid disappointment as demand has been very high.

FURTHER INFORMATION

© Ffoton

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hLCisOI0Xw

https://museum.wales/blog/2017-05-17/Magnum-photographerDavid-Hurn-donates-his-photography-collections-to-AmgueddfaCymru-National-Museum-Wales/

 

 

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    Preview of Little Wolf, Lucid Theatre. A retelling of Little Eyolf by Henrik Ibsen, Roger Barrington.

    Little Wolf is a  revision of a comparatively rarely performed 1894 play Little Eyolf by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. LUCID’s new production tours   venues  in South Wales in late October and November 2017 and promises to be a worthwhile enterprise.

    It has been given a contemporary revision, by LUCID’s award-winning director Simon Harris.

    PLOT OF LITTLE WOLF FROM LITTLE EYOLF BY IBSEN

    The action is set over a period of thirty-six hours at the home of Alfred and Rita Allmers. Alfred is an occasional teacher, intellectual and landowner. Their home is located near a fjord and some distance from the nearest town, thereby emphasising Ibsen’s naturalistic style of people influenced largely by the environment they live in. Their isolation from the remainder of the community also extends to their own marital relationship, which is on a steep downward curve due to the event that had caused their nine-year old son Eyolf to be partly paralysed. The boy’s handicap having been due to him falling off a table in babyhood, where he had been left whilst his parent’s engaged in making love. The feeling of guilt over this accident provides the backdrop to the events that ensue.

    THE PRODUCTION

    LUCID was formed in 2012 by Simon Harris and its aims are:

    • To act as a catalyst and resource for artist development
    • to be a producer of innovative and distinctive theatre projects

    Simon has an impressive C.V. having been associated with the National Theatre and the Soho Theatre Company as well as Artistic Director of Script Cymru the national company for new writing in Wales. In 2009, Simon won a highly-prized Creative Wales Award to enable him to develop new and innovative theatre projects.

    INTERVIEW

    I interviewed Simon about Little Wolf.

    RB: Little Wolf is a comparatively rarely performed Ibsen classic. Why do you think that is?

    SH: Well, Little Wolf is my version of the Ibsen classic Little Eyolf, and  A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler, Peer Gynt , these are the really well known plays, and Little Wolf comparatively, certainly in Wales, (I’m not aware of any productions in Wales to be honest), but comparatively in the UK, it is less performed. The peculiar thing is that when I speak to people who know the play, – I bumped into a couple of people in London, friends of mine who are directors a couple of weeks ago, and they said, “What are you doing?” and I said that I was doing this play based on Little Eyolf and they all went, “I love Little Eyolf!”, so I think part of it is that it is a challenging play in its content for some people, but it’s also an incredibly beautiful play –

    RB: Yes, it’s a very intense play, I presume there is no interval, do you think the audience is emotionally able to cope with that, because it is a very demanding play on the emotions isn’t it?

    SH: Well I think audiences these days are up for emotional engagement. If you look at the kind of television that people are tuning into these days, they’re sucking up the box sets, they really love the kind of deep engagement with characters they really get, and I think that this is the kind of offer that this play makes, it kinds of opens up its soul and lets you in a really profound and beautiful way. I think that this is a time when people are looking for an opportunity to empathaise and reflect a bit more, and if you compare with what is going on in the world at this moment, you know there are a lot of extremes in the world at this moment, and this is a play about the nuances of human behaviour and our ability to work through adversity towards a more hopeful position, so I think that aspect of the play that people should welcome.

    RB: Going on from that, I know that the Little Eyolf play has an open ending, slightly optimistic, but it’s an ending that in 1894 when the play was written, but do you think it works well today, because the Allmers were landowners, quite wealthy people that would devote their wealth to the poor, what with a Social Security system which does that today? Do you think that translates well today, or have you done something different with it?

    SH: Yes, I have done something different with it, so my connection with the play goes back a long time. I happened to see a version of it on the BBC, it’s a lovely production and I didn’t know the play at all, I didn’t know about Ibsen, but as soon as I landed on the channel that it was on, I was hooked, I was deeply deeply hooked into it and it made a lasting impression on me, so when I came to thinking about working on a new piece, I thought I would have a look at that, and when I read it I was quite surprised to see how different it was from the memory that I have of it. There were still things that were incredibly powerful and I thought very urgent and relevant, and some aspects of the play that felt very awkward to me – something that a modern audience wouldn’t identify with, so that’s why I felt that it was very important to do a different version of it, rather than a modern day version of an old play.

    RB: Little Eyolf is always a play that has divided critics. I know the Ibsenist Michael Meyer regarded it as his favourite Ibsen play, and there are others who rate this at the top of the tree… Now I understand that your working is set in the contemporary day and is set in Norway?

    SH: Yes.

    RB: Did you consider moving the setting to Wales for example. Would it work?

    SH: There is something similar about the non-conformist culture. Ibsen was fascinated about how we live, and the sometimes self-deluding behaviours that we have and hypocrisies that we have, so I think that may resonate fairly strongly for a Wales with a Non-Conformist chapel tradition. I didn’t really feel that gain that much from the setting of it in Wales. I’ve seen that done a few times, but I think it shows up some tensions in the production, and I always thought the best thing to do with it, and I’ve talked about this in one of the little films we’ve done on this on Facebook, is that we feel that we have absorbed the Norwegian culture aspect, but it’s not in your face, it’s not very overt,.

    RB: I want to ask a question about Rita. She has been described as a monster, and one of the reasons why I like Ibsen is that he writes about very strong-willed heroines, I’m thinking about Svanhild in Love’s Comedy, Nora of course in A Doll’s House. How do you compare Rita to these heroines? Are you sympathetic to Rita, is she, in fact a heroine?

    SH: I’m deeply sympathetic to her. I think that’s a very Victorian judgmental attitude to Rita to call her a monster. I think what is so difficult for people is that she is in a relationship with a man who is withdrawn from her, (and perhaps it’s a little more explicit in this play compared to the original), blames her conclusively for the past incidence that informs the whole of the play. Our version explores that much more comprehensively, and I think she is magnificent. She’s resilient, she’s loyal, she’s intelligent, she’s witty, she’s driven and the main thing is that she has a foundation in the love the two characters had for each other. She holds on to that. She knows what that meant in the past, and is the one who insists on it repeatedly in the play. That makes her strong. I think there’s an incredible resilience in her and it’s a beautiful journey in a way in that it moves from adversity to a new honesty and ability to move forward.

    RB: Finally, I would like to ask about LUCID. Perhaps you could tell us something about the Company?

    SH: This is the first theatre production of the company. We’ve been doing a variety of different works, some of it behind the scenes, working upon developing people, artists’ development, leadership development work, but I also had a piece by Chekhov that I developed as well, when I did a contemporised version of an early Chekhov play that I was interested in, so that might be something for the future. It’s early days for the company. The thing that interests me at the moment is the value of old stories. I’m slightly concerned that in the rush towards a more experiential theatre presentation. that we might lose touch with some of the dramatic traditions as well, but it doesn’t mean to say that because you interested in the dramatic tradition that it’s necessarily old-fashioned or out of date or anything else. The tradition goes back two thousand years, and I’m worried sometimes that we might be throwing the baby out with the bath water. I believe in a very pluralistic theatre culture, this work is about re-framing old stories in new urgent relevant ways. Hopefully in a way that audiences will appreciate  and engage with.

    RB: And presumably with the title of your company in mind, lucidity is something that you empathise  in the delivery?

    SH: Well I’d love that. That’s what we aim for. The LUCID name came about because I set the company up when what I considered was a lack of dialogue around what was happening in theatre, and I wanted to get people talking and thinking about some of these issues , so it was a kind of hint towards a hope for greater clarity.

    RB: Thanks for your time.

    Little Wolf is a rare opportunity to see a reworking of a great Ibsen play. The contemporary setting should resonate with the trials and tribulations that many of us go through in our daily life today. Ibsen was a very forward-thinking playwright for his time and his themes are as powerful today as they were when written one hundred and twenty years ago.

    This promises to be an exciting production and I would urge you view it as it goes on tour around South Wales. The dates are as follows:

    CARDIFF:

    Chapter 20, 21, 23 – 28 October at 7.30

    https://www.chapter.org/little-wolf

    Post-show talk after the performance of the 23rd

    SWANSEA:

    Volcano Theatre  1-4, and 7-11 November at 7.30

    http://www.volcanotheatre.co.uk/whats-on/little-wolf

    BRECON

    Theatr Brycheiniog 16 November at 7.30 and 17 November at 2

    https://theatrbrycheiniog.ticketsolve.com/shows/873578721?locale=en-GB

    NEWPORT

    The Riverfront 22 November at 7.45

    https://tickets.newportlive.co.uk/en-GB/shows/little%20wolf/info

    Suitability: 14+

    Duration: 90 mins (no interval)

    BACKGROUND MATERIAL

     

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZmGDzDKzWI

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbOodTNGP24

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Eyolf

    https://lucidevent.wordpress.com/about/

     

     

     

     

     

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      Review of “From Bacon to Doig” at the National Museum of Wales by Roger Barrington.

      4 Stars4 / 5

      A small, but important exhibition of 20th Century British  art is currently on display at the National Museum of Wales.

      Ian and Mercedes Stoutzker have lent works of art from their impressive collection of 20th Century artists and sculptors. Works by many of the greatest British names appears here including Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Barbara Hepworth and David Hockney.
      Ian Stoutzker, a successful businessman, decided to loan the works because of his connection to Wales, through his mother. She was a music teacher from Tredegar and spent all of her young life there.
      When I hear my mother’s accent I say ‘I’m back in Wales’, because that was my background and she never lost her love of Wales, which she passed on to me. I looked like my mother as a boy, and I am my mother and she lives through me. And I know the contentment she would have that I share her love of the country.
      It is a small exhibition only occupying  one gallery. However, when looking at any Collection, it is fascinating to see how it has evolved, which Mercedes informs us was from a very modest sum of available money. The downside is that it is also, inevitably, a very narrow selection of diversity.
      A selection of the exhibits on view  are as follows :-

      Grayson Perry – “World Leaders Attend the Marriage of Alan Measles and Clare Perry” Glazed Terracotta 2009.

      Alan Measles being the name of his childhood toy teddy-bear and Clare, his transvestite alter-ego. Perry likes to place Alan Measles as a political banner, and you can notice the inclusion of Euro political figures such as Gordon Brown, Nicholas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and others gather round for a wedding in a manner recalling earlier Christian iconography.

      R.B. Kitaj – “Still – The Other Woman” 1973 Oil on Canvas

      Kitaz was an American artist, who spent much of his creative live in England. He had a significant influence on British Pop Art.

      Francis Bacon – “Portrait of Henrietta Moraes” 1966 Oil on Canvas

       

       

      Francis Bacon’s naked 1966 portrait of his friend Henrietta Moraes lying on a bed with her feet towards us, her face an ape-like mask, her flesh blackened in places as if by disease, is a masterpiece of disturbing decadence. (The Guardian Review online).

      Ben Nicholson – “Still Life – Violin” 1932

       

      Finally, my personal favourite on display :-

      Peter Doig – “Untitled” 2001-2002

      The low resolution reproduction here, doesn’t do justice to the vibrancy of the flowers in the foreground and the austere icy setting behind it.  The Scottish artist’s work regularly sell at auction for over ten million USD, and compared to a lot of work that passes as art in the 21st century, it is not difficult to see why.

      “From Bacon to Doig” is a major exhibition of 20th Century British Art, not only in the Welsh cultural scene, but on the world stage. Indeed, it has been mentioned that it is the most important collection of art to have been exhibited at the National Museum of Wales, since the celebrated Davies sisters show of French Impressionist works back in the 1940s’.

      For those who are not particularly interested in the narrow taste of the Collection,  you may come away slightly underwhelmed due to it’s relatively small size and limited diversity of taste.  For devotees of 20th Century British Art, then this is an exhibition not to be missed.

      Combined with the Peter Hurn “Swaps” exhibition located in a nearby gallery, this could amount to an unforgettable half-day visit at the National Museum of Wales

      Admission: Free

      Runs from now to the 31st January 2018

      Links

      https://museum.wales/cardiff/whatson/9390/Bacon-to-Doig-Modern-Masterpieces-from-a-Private-Collection/

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-39006591 – Video

      There is a talk on the exhibition at the National Museum of Wales on 17 November 2017 –  admission free. The event commences at 13: 05 and you can book upon arrival to attend.

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        Review This Evil Thing, Sherman Theatre by Roger Barrington

         

        4 Stars4 / 5

         

        This didactic play tackles the controversial subject of conscientious objectors during World War One.

        Conscientious objectors, or CO’s as the play’s devisor Michael Mears refer to them are those people who for various reasons refuse to fight or even engage in any activity that contributes to the promotion of warfare. These reasons may be religious, political or idealistic or a combination of more than one of these factors.

        The most prominent character portrayed in the play is a man named Bert Brocklesby who was born and brought up near Doncaster as a Methodist but who had also interests in the Quaker and Baptist church movements. In fact, he eventually became a Quaker who are the religious group mostly closely associated with Conscientious objecting.

        It is not the first recent play that focusses upon the CO’s during WW1. Both of these play examine CO’s within a regional basis, in contrast to “This Evil Thing” that examines a national set of affairs. In “Devils on Horseback”, a 2017 production by Goldsmith College, the trials of CO’s in Deptford are shown, based upon research of historians at the College. “England Arise” by Bent Architect portrays the activities of CO’s in Huddersfield. In fact, Yorkshire was a hotbed of co activity during WW1. This play has been criticised as feeling a little overlong, albeit the running time at 75 minutes is the same as the play under review here.

        Positioning myself at the end of a crescent shaped set of rows at the Sherman Studio Theatre, I was easily able to notice my fellow audience member’s level of attention, for a play that demands it, and I am impressed by how riveted they were, which is testament to the engaging nature of this play. Mr Mears, at the end of the performance complimented the audience on their level of attention.

        Michael Mears is a well-known and award-winning figure on the Fringe Theatre circuit for largely his one-man plays which he both writes and acts in. “Soup” another one-man play has won the Scotsman Fringe Award” which examines homelessness.

        “This Evil Thing” was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 2016, and was well received.

        “A thorough and at times gripping account of an important subject.”

        4 out of 5 stars – The Scotsman

        “Mears is an animated and engaging presence throughout, his faithful delivery of others’ words accommodating many a naturalistic flourish. Entertaining as his show may be, his gratitude and outrage remain very much to the fore. This is important, vital polemic.”

        4 Stars out of 4 Fest (Edinburgh Festival magazine)

        In an interview for the Stratford-upon Avon Herald in January this year, Mr. Meyers was asked the question how he would describe this play.

        He replied, “It’s the compelling and rather shocking, and also inspiring, story of the First World War conscientious objectors (CO’s) in Britain, which has rarely been told or even talked about. In this period of commemoration of the war there’s a lot of focus on the battles, but I knew there would be plenty of material on that and wanted to write about something else. My grandfather fought in the First World War and my father in the Second but I don’t seemed to have inherited the genes, I’m a pacifist — so it seemed appropriate to focus on that. The full interview can be found here.

        I would entirely agree with this.

        Image Simon Richardson

        The design of the production is sparse in the extreme. Nine wooden boxes of different sizes, a wooden post and a bag amount to the set’s design. This minimalist approach works well, as due to the play’s physical nature, it allows Mr. Meyers to energetically move around the set. The boxes are used very creatively. For instance, they transform into a lectern, stretcher, bed, window, bench, representations of human figures in a military tribunal, coffin and even simulating gunfire by their sudden collapsing.

        Image Simon Richardson

        The play opens with a very effective use of lighting depicting a CO who was being punished by having to stand upon a box for hours upon end in a pit which has water lying at the bottom. The box protecting the prisoner from having to stand in the water. The only lighting on a totally dark stage coming from directly above. The play ends with the same scene. This very symbolic use of darkness and light can be interpreted in different ways which are not difficult to work out.

        Over the course of the play’s seventy-five minutes, Mr. Meyers plays over fifty characters. An impressive feat, and I wonder whether the performer ever lapses into using the wrong voice, e.g, whilst playing a sergeant-major he slips into using a plummy public accent typical of a British army officer. His use of so many diverse voices and accents is one of the highlights of the play, as this compilation of scenes taken from the play illustrates.

        The sentiment of the play is totally one-sided. Mr. Meyers is a committed pacifist and in a way, the play suffers from this one-dimensional view.

        This is clearly depicted in the promotional flyer and poster.

        The eponymous poster of Lord Kitchener pointing his figure towards all men able to fight, “Britons Wants You”, is mutilated by the red-cross, (symbolising blood), which intersect over the mouth, thereby gagging the message.

        In a post-performance forum, I asked whether Mr. Meyers accepted that being a CO was essentially a selfish act. Naturally, he disagreed and the discussion was somewhat diverted into a matter of courage rather than the question I posed. My reason for implying this statement is that the CO’s were buoyed by their own strength of conviction, whereas his family were usually ostracised for his refusal to fight, with an inevitable implication of cowardice being the motivating factor. Contrast this to Junior Officers who suffered the highest casualty levels in WW1 over the men they led and their senior officers who were often protected well being the Front Line. Posing the question why these officers were prepared to die with almost an submissive inevitably, I suggested that largely it was due to protecting the family honour, thereby sacrificing themselves to protect the humiliation of cowardice from their loved ones.

        Also, a scene where Bert Brocklesby refuses to peel potatoes because he was helping to prepare a meal for officers and men, on the basis that he would not help in any way the progress of war, I found to be trivial. However, I would concede that Mr Mears is only portraying the facts of a real life character, and others such as the eminent philosopher and later CND co-founder Bertrand Russell and Prime Minister H. H. Asquith also feature.

        Mr. Mears is an engaging figure, both on and off stage. He is clearly fired up by the message he is bringing and totally committed to it. An interesting character in his own right, he is an active long-distance walker, which would aid his fitness level essential to his own brand of physical theatre.

        This message is a worthy one. As to its relevance today is another matter. I cannot foresee, due to the technical advance of weaponry, a situation where conscription will ever be re-introduced. In today’s world, blessed by 75 years of involvement in international conflict on a national level, our attitudes towards CO’s has softened. The play reminds us that these men possessed a different type of bravery in swimming against the tide, and should be remembered with compassion and understanding for doing that.

        On the performance I attended, the 100 seater theatre was just over half full. This is a sad reflection on the demands of theatregoers today. Many, it seems, see the role of theatre to be solely based upon entertainment factors, thereby omitting an essential aspect of theatre which should be to educate. The concentration ability in today’s world would appear to have been irreversibly damaged through instant revelation provided through technology. I compare it to 20-20 cricket as compared to a test match. Although, I will happily concede that there is a place for both, I fear that the relentless march of entertainment musicals, (whilst acknowledging their financial input often sponsors drama), may mean such important plays such as “This Evil Thing” will become a rarity.

        Sherman Theatre is the opening venue of a two month tour which returns to Wales on :-

        11th November 2017 Galeri Theatre, Caernarfon

        24th November 2017 Aberystwyth Arts Centre

        Full dates can be found here 

        “This Evil Thing” performed and revised by Michael Mears.

        Directed by Rosamunde Hutt

        Performed at Sherman Studio Theatre Cardiff 25th and 26th September 2017

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