Joan Eardley: A Private View, SNG Modern 2, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Heroica Theatre Company
Anna Carlisle (writer), Marilyn Imrie (director), Claire Halleran (designer), Pippa Murphy (music director and arranger), Janice Parker (choreographer), Carol Ann Crawford (dialect coach)
Alexandra Mathie (Joan Eardley) John Kielty (Angus Neil, Hugh Adam Crawford and Samson child), Ashley Smith (Margot Sandeman, Lil Neilson, Audrey Walker and Samson child)
Running time

Art galleries are places of hush and reverence, like libraries used to be (remember that?). Yet, it’s not uncommon for theatrical or musical performances to take place within their hallowed walls from time to time. What is virtually unknown is for children to run through the rooms harem scarem while singing at the tops of their voices. That is exactly what disturbed the subdued chat of the audience waiting in the presence of Eduardo Paolozzi’s giant striding silver figure, Vulcan at the Scottish National Gallery, Modern 2.

Dressed as a pair of Glesga weans (short for wee anes, meaning little ones), John Kielty and Ashley Smith come diving in among the surprised group. They are singing the old Glasgow chant There is a Happy Land down at Duke Street Jail and the many versed party favourite, I Married a Wife, oh then, oh then as they lead the audience guests to Eardley’s studio where Joan herself, so warmly portrayed by Alexandra Mathie, welcomes her guests.

So starts the intimate promenade performance of this World Première from writer Anna Carlisle who has written seven plays on the theme ‘Maverick women unsung lives’ for West Yorkshire based Heroica Theatre Company. Joan Eardley: A Private View is her latest. Her beautiful sensitively written script that contains subtle Sapphic innuendo casts a kindly light on Eardley’s quietly rebellious life giving insight in to a modest, passionate and determined woman that allows us to see with new eyes the rather severe and slightly defensive image that most people are familiar with. The production admirably takes on the challenge of a fluid space and unpredictable audience movement, thanks to astute direction of Marilyn Imrie and choreography from Janice Parker and of course to the flexibility of the alert and able cast.

We are led to rooms representing either Townhead in Glasgow, where Eardley painted the children of the Samson family, or Catterline in Aberdeenshire where she created her marvellous land and seascapes. Here Mathie slashes the air with an invisible brush with credible gusto. Throughout, there is a strong message of what was the driving force behind the striking work of this brave and unconventional woman. To be ‘stopped dead by a meaning’; be transported by ‘little miracles’ and ‘split second light’, comes across as her raison d’être alongside her intense friendships with fellow artists, played impressively by Ashley Smith who along with John Kielty employ a variety of accents for their array of characters and who play and sing a selection of music of the time in snatches across the performance, setting both the period and mood.

Eardley lived over half her life in Sussex, England before settling with her family outside Glasgow in the relatively affluent district of Bearsden but was played with a Scottish accent. Never having heard Eardley’s voice, I don’t know if that is accurate or a director’s choice. Either way, it indicates a love of the artist’s adopted country of Scotland.

This highly engaging and revealing private view merits being made very public.

Friday May 5th and Saturday May 6th at 6 for 6.30pm

The production has had support from the National Galleries Scotland, supported by Stellar Quines Theatre Company, an award winning Scottish theatre company that shares the values of Heroica in its celebration of the value and diversity of women and girls through theatre.

Tour continues:
6-7 May – Edinburgh – Hawthornden Lecture Theatre (SNG)
10 May – Isle of Arran – Corrie & Sannox Village Hall: 8pm
12 May – Banchory – Woodend Barn (2 performances): SOLD OUT
14 May – Boswell Book Festival, Dumfries House, Ayrshire: 6.45pm
16-17 May – Milngavie – *The Lillie Art Gallery: 16 May, 7pm and 17 May, 7pm
19-20 May – Montrose – WALL PROJECTS II @the Old Rope Works 3pm
24 May – Arbroath – Hospitalfield House: 7.00pm
27-28 May – Dumfries – Gracefield Arts Centre: Sat 27 May, 7.30pm and Sun 28 May, 7.30pm
1 June – Scarborough – Woodend Art and Craft Gallery: 7.30pm
3 June – Huddersfield – *Huddersfield Art Gallery: 11.15am Arts Fund Event and 2.00pm
4 June – Halifax – The Crossley Gallery, Dean Clough: 3pm
5 June – London – Omnibus, Clapham Common: 7.30pm
7 June – London – The Caledonian Club: 6.30 for 7pm
8 June – Reading – *Reading Museum and Town Hall: (2 performances): 2.30pm and 6pm
9-10 June – Coventry – *The Herbert Art Gallery: Fri 9 June, 8pm and Sat 10 June, 4pm
(*art galleries with Eardleys in their permanent collections, to be exhibited during performances)