HANDSTAND ON HODGKINS A REVELATION
Double Portrait: Finding Frances Hodgkins
Written by: Jan Bolwell
Directed by: Ralph McAllister
Friday & Saturday only)
at Mahara Gallery, Waikanae
From 27 Nov 2009 to 5 Dec 2009
[1hr 15 mins, no interval]
Reviewed by Wickham Pack, 16 Mar 2010
This was indeed a unique experience, as director Ralph McAllister commented when introducing the piece, “to be watching a dramatic portrait of Frances Hodgkins' life, while surrounded by her paintings.” Handstand Productions and Mahara Gallery are to be commended for bringing this fascinating piece back to Mahara as part of the Frances Hodgkins' season of events in the International Arts Festival.
Written by Jan Bolwell, who also performed the title role; ably supported by Perry Piercy and John Wraight in a mixed palette of supporting roles, the play is not the chronological sequence of biographical vignettes that might be expected from the title. The collected letters of Frances Hodgkins have clearly been mined for material, but then the dramatist's imaginative instincts have come into play. Possibly taking Hodgkins' own comment “it's the danger that delights” to heart, Bolwell has created a piece that asks “what if?” and “what then?” and “then who?” and the results are a revelation.
Performed on John Wraight's minimal set of rostra tightly bound in spattered painter's drop cloths, the play begins with a short incisive sketch that summarises the current art world excitement over Hodgkins' work. It then leaps back to the telling encounter between Hodgkins and the English gallery owner who did so much to promote her work in the last years of her life, before plunging into the murkier family environs in Dunedin to set the scene for Hodgkin's departure from NZ.
The play uses ‘flash-backs' and ‘flash-forwards' throughout, always coherently, often opening out with music or dance to underline emotional states. All three actors clearly relish embodying the discoveries made by Hodgkins as an artist and a person in this dramatic journey, as did the intent audience, which was made clear by their responses during the play and during the question-and answer session with the actors and director, which followed.
The title? Maybe a reference to the play being told both in Hodgkins' own words, as well as the words of other people about her; or perhaps because it is both a biographical portrait, as well as an imaginative one.
Double Portrait strengthened in performance as it progressed, with the writing confident enough to raise as many questions as it answered. I look forward to Handstand Productions next collaboration.
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