This is a play, a drama, named after and based around a painting. Not a usual starting point for a play, but then this isn’t a usual sort of play. The eponymous painting in question, by the artist Rex Whistler, will be familiar to many Bath residents as a part of the permanent collection exhibited upstairs at the Victoria Art Gallery. It portrays two men, one with a bowler hat and a moustache and a glass of beer, the other balding, slightly unkempt with an earring in one ear. They are sitting at a table in what may, or may not, be a pub. What local writer and performer Doc Watson wants to do is to explore what might be going on between them, and also to look a little at the life and reputation of the artist who painted them. This may sound a bit dry, but actually, presented as a series of sketches between two actors, Doc himself and the very able Peter Smart, it is an altogether lively, versatile and engaging event. Oddball characters say odd things to each other in various Pinteresque vignettes that include, among other things, anarchist conspiracies, reflections on art, and even firearms. This is interrupted at one point by a delicious sort of critics corner, featuring comments, real and imagined, by contemporary and historic art pundits, some of whom you may recognise. The pace in this very enjoyable piece never flags as the characters and situations morph into each other, without drawing any final conclusions as to what the painting is really about. All of which is made the more poignant by the mysterious fact that the Victoria Art Gallery has, shamefully, WITHDRAWN THE PAINTING FROM DISPLAY after exhibiting it for many years, just FOUR DAYS before this production opened! Why? Are they alarmed at the power of theatre will overwhelm art? Make of that what you will, conspiracy theorists!
John Christopher Wood