Theatre

Looking at Lucian at Ustinov Studio, Bath

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Posted on 11th August 2017

Looking at Lucian

Ustinov Studio Bath

9 August, 2017

Alan Franks' new drama about controversial artist Lucian Freud, which premieres at the Ustinov this month, is a gem in Theatre Royal Bath's summer season. It's a portrait of the artist in another medium, one of words and witticisms rather than paint.

Looking at Lucian is just that, a one-man show in which we spend the 90-odd minutes looking directly at Freud, who is played by double Olivier Award winner Henry Goodman.

Goodman is wonderful in the role, addressing his unseen sitter among the audience, alternately posturing and petulant, while he recounts anecdotes of his life. He dissembles, he sings, he waggles his brows, and tries it on with his model.

It's hugely entertaining, full of witty bon mots and limericks, and of course there's no shortage of material to draw from. 

Freud, who died in 2011, was as colourful as a palette, painting all manner of subjects from the Queen, to Kate Moss, to benefits supervisor 'Big Sue' Tilley. He was allegedly an inveterate philanderer fathering at least 14 children; he knew Deborah Mitford, the Krays and the Jaggers. His family fled Berlin in 1933 to escape the rise of the Nazis. 

Freud was undoubtedly a character, and yet this is a gentle portrayal, full of humour, and visually enhanced by Carla Goodman's remarkable set with its framed portrait skylights.

So it's only in the second part of this play that we meet what may be the essential Freud. He discovers he has been duped by the model, and lets fly in a visceral outpouring his anger and sorrow at the betrayal of the creative intimacy between artist, canvas and sitter. 

The cleverness of Franks' writing is that his drama recreates this creative triangularity, here between writer, actor and audience – and to great effect. As a journalist and interviewer of a long list of the great and the good of modern popular culture Franks is himself a portraitist.

We sit, just like the model, in the intimacy of the theatre-cum-artist's studio as the play unfolds, but unlike the model we do not complain of the discomfort of sitting, nor the time it's taking to complete. This play is just too funny, too delightful and definitely not to be missed.

Looking at Lucian, directed by Tom Attenborough, is part of the Theatre Royal Bath's summer season, and is showing at the Ustinov until Saturday 2 September. Tickets are available from the box office on 01225 448844 or online at www.theatreroyal.org.uk

Jackie Chappell

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