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REVIEW: Charlatan

PUBLISHED: 15:43 06 October 2010 | UPDATED: 11:13 14 October 2010

TONY Tanner couldn't have chosen a better time to stage his one man drama about Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Just recently, art historians revealed that a painting of a young naked woman (previ

CHARLATAN, King's Head Theatre, Upper Street, N1

TONY Tanner couldn't have chosen a better time to stage his one man drama about Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

Just recently, art historians revealed that a painting of a young naked woman (previously mistaken for a 1940s Hollywood actress) actually depicted the dancer Tamara Karsavina, one of Diaghilev's most notable protégée's. Meanwhile, an exhibition at the V&A museum will mark the centenary of Ballets Russes' first UK appearance.

Tanner's play provides an intriguing insight into the world of Russian dance at the turn of the 20th century. Against a backdrop of revolution and war, Diaghilev narrates a brief history of his life with a frankness which is both endearing and comical. It is something which we would all surely love to do - to have the "last say" on our lives. But inevitably, Diaghilev's captivating monologue leaves just as many questions unanswered as it does answered.

In particular, Diaghilev's relationship with the brooding perfectionist Vaslav Nijinksky, once a dance partner to Karsavina, is turbulent from beginning to end. Diaghilev says that his later sexual partners paled in comparison to Nijinksy, and jokes that it was lucky he died when he did, as his conquests simply became younger as he grew older. Diaghilev's openness about his homosexuality is refreshing, but it is easy to forget that such affairs were officially prohibited during this period.

Asides from being a little heavy with dance references, this short play will undoubtedly leave you wanting to find out more about this complex and charismatic character. In a final sprinkling of irony, Tanner shows us that no one can truly construct an epitaph to their own life, in the same way that the subjective can never become completely objective. - RACHEL BLUNDY


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