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Theatre review: Lizzie Siddal at the Arcola Theatre

PUBLISHED: 13:12 29 November 2013 | UPDATED: 13:12 29 November 2013

Emma West as Lizzie Siddal in Lizzie Siddal

Emma West as Lizzie Siddal in Lizzie Siddal

Archant

Lizzie Siddal lived a life of quite some note. She was a painter and a poet. She was also a model, and her figure is etched into history as ‘Ophelia’ in Millais’ famous painting.

Now, in an outstanding production at the Arcola Theatre, audiences are being treated to a dramatic telling of her life; a brain tickling voyage into the ups and downs brought on by both success and tragedy.

It is fair to say that her life posited many questions, such as the relationship between the artist and their art, the definition of independence and whether legacy is more important than method. These are as resonant today as they were back in the 1800s. There is also an engaging portrayal of the trials she faced in the quest for requited true love.

The framing of proceedings is plain and the direction is delightfully unpretentious. This forces a spotlight onto the delivery of the narrative and the dialogue itself. It is pleasing to report that both are wonderfully evocative and compensate generously.

The performances are electric. Fringe theatre has an abundance of talent in its midst generally, but this cast stand tall within its company. Daniel Crossly is particularly impressive in his variety of roles but credit goes to all.

There is a histrionic pitch to the second half that could easily be accused of melodrama were it not funnelled so brilliantly into a soul stirring denouement, sending shockwaves to the head and the heart. This is a compelling document of a life lived. A life that lived, breathed, loved and bled. Satisfyingly thorough, a looking glass is offered into all of these facets.

To hear fellow members of an audience gasp and comment as the plot unfolds is a sign that immersion was not unique to this reviewer. This stood as one of the most absorbing theatre experiences of the year. Essential.

*****

Lizzie Siddal is at the Arcola Theatre until 21st November 2013


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