Sunday, 30 October 2011

Two Paintings and The Killing of Sister George

UPDATE: 2nd November, 2011

I have sadly discovered that The Killing of Sister George should now be read as the killing of "The Killing of Sister George" .  This illustrates the famous maxim: carpe diem or in other words seize the day.  If you want to see a play and it's on, see it then and there!

Also, there appears to be some confusion regarding the dates of the picture description sessions at the Whitechapel Gallery.  One of the party on Saturday has sent me dates (hard copy) in the post which appear to conflict with the Whitechapel Gallery's website.  It may be best to call Sarah Barrett on 020-7522-7888 to check dates and to book a place.  The sessions are all the same.

Further to my quick visit to the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), I contacted someone who introduced me to portraits and we exchanged a few words about my trip.  The following is an excerpt:

I am so pleased to hear that they looked after you at the NPG and that Ramsay was there for you to see!

Thanks so much for your kind words, and, remember: The importance of a portrait lies not only in its "look" but also in what it tells us about the time from which it comes. With that in mind, vision is only one part of understanding a work.

The painting which was studied in the Art Through Words programme at the National Gallery in London )
on 29 October was Interior by Vilhelm Hammershoi.  (
 Having described the Anton Henning exhibition in Edinburgh, also entitled Interior, as visual overload this Interior is very much in the dark, monochromatic and minimalist stereotype of the Scandinavian.  Hammershoi painted this in 1899 so there is an element of the Fin de Siecle doom and gloom with the approach to the new century. 

Jo and Clair started by doing the layout of the painting with dimensions and positions of the figures; two doors, a table, a stove, two chairs and the back view of a woman (Hammershoi’s wife Ida)  My peripheral vision picked out the vertical lines of the doors and the stove.  The position of the woman was in line with the stove and I could only make out her neck and what seemed like the edge of a white apron and waist straps. 

Jo led a discussion on set designs and the plays of Ibsen.  Was the woman reading a letter, telegram or photo?  I mentioned Hedda Gabbler, someone else mentioned Ghosts and Jo mentioned A Dolls House.  This was my cue for the Arcola Theatre production where I was sitting near a tipped over chair.  Many of those attending the session chipped in with their comments and the later stroll through the National Gallery gives one the chance to chat to other visually impaired people.  One was going to the British Museum talk in connection with Grayson Perry and another had been to a talk for the visually impaired at the Whitechapel Gallery.  (

A big thanks to the National Gallery for the Art through Words programme. 

After “looking” at the Hammershoi painting I was in need of a portrait and on leaving the gallery turned left three times and went into the National Portrait Gallery.  I had not been in the NPG since I lost my sight 10 years ago.   The last time I visited the NPG was on the occasion of an exhibition of Allan Ramsay.  I mentioned this to Rebecca, who approached me on entering the gallery and I asked if I could meet Mr Ramsay.  Rebecca told me about the NPG’s latest exhibition as we went to the room where there is a portrait of Ramsay as well as one of Samuel Johnson. She mentioned the programme the NPG offers to the visually impaired  ( and then showed me out another way and gave me directions to the theatre ticket information booth. 

For matinees in reasonable “finding” locations I had a choice of: 39 Steps, a play by Arthur Miller or The Killing of Sister George. I opted for the latter, a play by Frank Marcus which was made into a film starring Beryl Reid and Susannah York.  The Killing of Sister George is playing at the Arts Theatre (between Charing Cross Road and St Martins Lane. Tube is Leicester Square)  Meera Syal plays June Buckridge (George), Helen Lederer plays the Fortune Teller, Belinda Lang plays Mrs Mercy Croft and Alice is played by  Elizabeth Cadwallader.  (

I found the theatre after walking round the block and the “anteroom” seems as if it as a modern pub chain of the sofa, coffee table and bar stool variety.  I bought a ticket, got a coffee and on getting  up to enter the auditorium was asked if I needed any assistance.  I was shown to an aisle seat some three rows in the stalls.  My neighbour kindly explained the set to me.  During the interval another neighbour asked if I wanted a drink from the bar.  I also enjoyed the interval chat with 3 ladies, some 20 years younger than me, who were shocked by the violence. During the interval my reproduction of Hammershoi’s painting rolled away and ended up on the stage as a prop!

Regarding the play I enjoyed it for what it is: a comedy.  The fortune teller is supposed to be hammy, two faced and a horror and sounds well played by Helen Lederer.  Belinda Lang portrays a scheming BBC apparatchik from the 1960s and the scene over scones with the references to dropped scones, girdle scones and pancakes complete with Mrs McNaught’s recipe for scones (bicarbonate of soda plus crème of tartar) sounds as fresh as a 1960s Ambridge baking competition. 

Frank Marcus wrote the play in 1964 and the film appeared some 5 years later.  I remember the shock at the time when the  film opened and it appeared from the matinee audience that it still provokes both shock horror and laughter in proportion.  I could only make out some of the movement on the stage so can’t comment on the visual detail. It sounded fine from my seat.   If you like the radio productions of Simon Brett and Mark Tavener you will enjoy this production.  If, however, you are only familiar with the Beryl Reid performance then you may be disappointed with Meera Syal.  If you do not follow The Archers you may miss out on some of the references.  For those lamenting the “Killing of Nigel” in The Archers there may be some sympathy for a much loved radio soap character.  Aristophanes could be cruel in comedy and if you enjoyed Clouds or Lysistrata you will enjoy this production. 

As usual many thanks to the public in London and the staff from Leicester Square and Green Park tube stations.