The play is set in the cut-throat art world. Sculptor Marco Kaphra has gone on a break to spend more time with his wife and young daughter. To suppress his artistic urge, the wife has locked up the studio. Everything is fine until a mysterious man turns up unannounced and commissions a work with no brief, except that it should be a masterpiece and should be deeply personal. Marco invites his old friends, all fellow artists, to help him out. They prove to be rather uninspiring until Marco gets a rather interesting idea for a masterpiece when his wife hits her head on the coffee table and suddenly his friends come in handy…
It’s an interesting premise and provides all the delicious melodrama and violence one would expect from the Grand Guignol genre. The way the violence is handled is suitably effective, relying on the audience’s
imaginations, although I did long for them to push it a little further in the revelation of the masterpiece, which was disturbing but could have been horrific. It was conducted slickly, in the privacy of Marco’s studio,viewed through a white screen lit from the back. At least in not portraying the violence graphically, they avoided squirty blood capsules and rubber eyeballs, but some judicious gore could have helped ramp up the horror, giving aesthetic designer Alia Michelle Supron another chance to show off her talents.
Marco’s friends are an oddball collection. The strongest characters are the camp narcissistic Danny,
played by Laurence Hussain who nails the stereotype and pulls off some fantastically pretentious clothing,
and ruthless professional Veronica, played to steely perfection by Jenny Paraskevaidou. Both get their due come-uppance. The nicer friends add an interesting mix but it would have been good to elaborate on their characters earlier in the play. For me, the play really starts when Marco invites the friends round, and more of an exploration into these characters would strengthen their later scenes. There’s a lot of interesting potential with all of Marco’s friends and the acting is solid, creating the necessary dramatic tension. A moment with one of the friends seems out of character for Marco but is quite chilling due to Ceri Lothian's endearing performance as the poor friend.
Niall Machin as Marco is suitably unhinged and really goes for it in the second half and I
thoroughly enjoyed Dean Hochlaf’s performance as the creepy art commissioner, full of glib glamour and a comic fondness for tea, who lures Marco into madness.
The ending could perhaps do with a little working out but it remained an engaging melodrama
with interesting characters, an intriguing premise, and a script that explored with relish the tortured artist in an art world driven by industry rather than talent. Hopefully the piece is not too autobiographical…