Looking At Lucian – Review

As portraits go Henry Goodman creates a masterpiece in Alan Franks‘ unnerving play, Looking At Lucian even if the style and content is loosely constructed and frequently moves into surealism.

Looking At Lucian, which opened tonight in the Ustinov Studio of Theatre Royal Bath, does what it says on the palatte.

It’s a remarkable one-man exhibition from one of this country’s finest character actors who paints a vivid likeness of maverick artist, gambler, philanderer and prodigious breeder, Lucian Freud.

While the audience is looking at him, he has his eyes fixed on an invisible nude who is slouched at an impossibly uncomfortable angle with her legs apart.

This can be terribly disconcerting if you have a seat in about the second row on the right because Freud, nostrils flaring and eyes frequently wide-eyed with furious intent – fixes his stare just about there.

He spends the entire 100-minutes talking to his model, chiding her for being late, berating her for having redder soles than the day before and raging at her for her impatience.

But he also regales her with anecdotes about his famous sitters – the Queen (“We’d talk. Same age, same European ancestry – more or less,” he says), Jerry Hall, Kate Moss – and about his colourful life.

“I’m completely devoid of any homosexual tendencies,” he tells her. “I wait in hope…” and then the inveterate gambler admits a crush on, of all people, Lester Piggott.

Franks has sketched in lots of juicy quips for Goodman, whose demeanour, as the tempramental artist, veers wildly from spouting jolly poems to ridiculing his comtempories like Bacon and even mocking his fans.

“Yes, I am aware that Prince Charles paints…..at least that’s what he calls it!” he sneers.

The father of 14 – or it could be 40 – is affronted when the press accuse him of having 500 lovers (“It was far more than that!).

But, one brush stroke at a time, his canvas fills with fine detail about his sometimes shocking and controversial life while he attempts to complete his latest portrait.

There are a few moments when Tom Attenborough’s direction is less sure of itself. Franks’ play demands a lot from Goodman who has nothing but his imagination to play off.

However this consumate actor doesn’t take his eye off his complex subject for a moment, delivering a outstanding performance.

The entire piece takes place in Freud’s paint-splattered studio. The walls look like they’ve had a visit from Jackson Pollock and paint-stained rags litter the floor.

Freud is, in turn, passionate and consumed, then fiery and impatient, and finally jocular, poking fun at the likes of Mick Jagger and the late Jimmy Goldsmith.

Nothing gets in the way of the painting. Not tardiness, betrayal or his sitter’s boredom.

Frustratingly we never get to see the finished piece, and we can only guess who his illustrious model was, but every brushstroke is beautifully applied by a master in this riveting and revelatory study of a great artist at work.

Looking At Lucian runs at the Ustinov Studio until September 2.

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