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Review: 100 PAINTINGS, The Hope Theatre

Jack Stacey's debut play isn't as bold as it was when it first premiered, but it still gives a few dark smirks to the state of the world.

Review: 100 PAINTINGS, The Hope Theatre

Review: 100 PAINTINGS, The Hope Theatre According to Google, an artist is "a person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession (or hobby)". It's hard to be one on a creative level, but it's even harder when your livelihood strictly depends on your ability to create. Inspiration needs to take a backseat and discipline take over.

Jack Stacey's exploration of the meaning of art premiered at the Bread & Roses last year and now makes its North London debut at The Hope Theatre in Islington. Setting the scene against the backdrop of a dystopian future that's remarkably similar to where we're heading, his Artist is having a creative and identity crisis.

Stuck in a room at the Savoy Hotel with stacks of unpaid bills, broke, and without any means to make a living, he makes a deal with the new manager. He will paint 100 pieces for him to hang in the hotel as payment.

But time is ticking and his dictatorial, oppressive mother keeps belittling and downplaying his path whilst depending entirely on him to survive. Engaged in a baffling court battle to regain possession of her city centre home, she is completely oblivious to her son's needs and doesn't ease the numerous distractions he's constantly fighting off.

She hires a prostitute to accelerate his creative process and vexes him endlessly. Denise Stephenson plays the matriarch as an easily flattered Norma Desmond character who accumulates lipsticked kisses on his face and accuses him of being sexually repressed.

Jane Christie reprises her role as the distressed librarian in search of answers. Both she and Conrad Williamson's (who's also back in the part) Artist struggle with their families in one way or another, and ultimately find solace in a kindred soul.

Eva, the wise, optimistic prostitute who becomes The Artist's spirit guide is played as cool and nurturing by Juliet Garricks. Revamping the piece, Stacey gets rid of much of the original social commentary as well as his protagonist's eventual vocation.

While the comedy is more slender and immediate, the moments of reflection land further apart and its observations are more Delphic. Creative insecurity isn't the gateway to a career in the art world of a decaying future anymore. It's left suspended.

Government-issued advertisements on the mandatory nature of "breathers" as the air is too polluted to breathe and obscure war-related reports punctuate the scenes in Zachary Hart's new staging. The Hope's black box is covered in the ripped wallpaper and paint splatters of the crumbling hotel, so the snazzy projections look distorted and properly dystopian.

Regrettably, this is a case of "less is more". Jasmine Williams's static lighting implies the use of camping lights (electricity is a thing of the past in this universe), but gets eradicates of all the brilliant shadow work of the early production.

Stacey's revisions also make 100 Paintings less bold, pushing his piece into more of a comedic framework rather than keeping the black humour and perceptive critique of a collapsing civilization and art's place in it.

Williamson's tantrums don't conceal a veneration for the craft anymore and some of the initial allegories might be lost in a draft somewhere. The Artist says that he wants to paint the human condition, but we don't truly buy it. Still, the comedy is enthralling and the backhanded remarks maintain their charm.

Stacey's use of language is compelling. His parallels between appellatives are specifically interesting when semantics are concerned. The Mother is the main agent for this, her expressions showing the differences between the intrinsic weight of words.

The Artist's paintings are dismissed as pictures and he is a painter, not an artist. Eva is a prostitute, but also a sex worker. And Beatriz is a bibliognost, a librarian. This duality is kept as a running joke in this instance, but used to be part of the symbolism of the play.

All in all, 100 Paintings has turned into delightful, quick fun that still gives a few dark smirks to the state of the world.

100 Paintings runs at The Hope Theatre until 4 June.



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