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Theatre review: The Painter 
31st-Jan-2011 10:42 pm
A couple of London theatres will be finding new homes this year and first up is Dalston's Arcola, whose original premises are being converted into flats. Their ambitious plans for a specially-built, eco-friendly, recycled building haven't quite come to fruition, and their new home (which is at least a lot handier for public transport) is a former paint factory. The rushed move means the place is still in some state of disrepair - if you're planning on going dress warmly because it's almost colder inside than out, especially if you need to take the magical mystery tour to find the loos. The shape of the building means the bar area is currently very cramped, and while the new Studio 1 is bigger than the old one, it's an awkward shape which I can't imagine will be very flexible. I'd also been warned to stay away from the upper tier of seating as the sightlines and acoustics are poor, so I made sure to be there early to get a seat near the action. So the place is clearly experiencing some teething problems but to an extent you can forgive this as the state of the building shows they're up against it.

Given the building's history, Rebecca Lenkiewicz's The Painter is an apt show to launch their new premises with but it seems a bizarrely low-key choice. 23 short scenes from the life of the famous landscape artist J.M.W. Turner (Toby Jones,) starting in 1799 as his mother (Amanda Boxer) is committed to an insane asylum, he starts a relationship with a widowed (and apparently permanently pregnant) neighbour (Niamh Cusack) and befriends a local prostitute (Denise Gough) whom he uses as a model for figure studies. Jones is always good but he's not given a great deal to work with here, Turner seems to have been very introverted and it's only his scenes with Gough that really come to life. The most genuine passion he shows is for art, the scenes at home interspersed with his speeches to the Royal Academy. Both here and at home he's always supported by his father, a quietly powerful performance from Jim Bywater.

Unfortunately, major figure in art he might have been but Turner's life doesn't really seem to have been interesting enough to create a story out of. Lenkiewicz and director Mehmet Ergen do their best at weaving something out of the various incidents and the fact that scenes are so short mean it's not actually dull but ultimately there's not that much there to get your teeth into, or to care about.

The Painter by Rebecca Lenkiewicz is booking until the 12th of February at the Arcola Theatre.
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