Theatre review: Asking Rembrandt at Old Red Lion

Asking Rembrandt. Picture: Chris Gardner

Asking Rembrandt. Picture: Chris Gardner - Credit: Archant

This new play proved a poorly painted picture of the artist’s life, says Greg Wetherall.

Carving a slice of drama out of a little documented chapter in the life of a famous figure is a tricky proposition.

It is not a hurdle which writer Steve Gooch manages to convincingly overcome in Asking Rembrandt.

Presented as a profane, bawdy genius, the titanic Dutch painter (played by Liam McKenna) paces his abode with both a sense of righteous self-confidence and an insecurity that marks a deteriorating financial state.

His love life is in the throes of change.


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Rembrandt has survived his wife’s passing, but his new relationship with former maid, the much younger Henni (Esme Patey-Ford), is widely condemned due to the swollen, pregnant belly that she is developing outside of wedlock.

This damning societal attitude is no passive threat. Remarriage would close the door on Rembrandt accessing his son Titus’ (Loz Keystone) trust saved under his deceased wife’s will.

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In and amongst this dilemma, he is visited by his patron, Jan Six (John Gorick), who ensures that the familiar art/commerce squabbles flow with typical incongruence.

While there are fleeting flashes of intrigue, and intermittent moments of potency, this is, more often than not, an inconsistent and incoherent work.

The analysis between artist and patron was much better observed by Jeremy Green in his outstanding Lizzie Siddal performed at the Arcola in 2013.

The vulgarity of the remarks spewing from Rembrandt’s mouth do not prompt laughs nor are they an effective transposition of a 17th century potty mouth, to demark an archetypal working class vernacular.

One of the production’s few successes lies in a neat staging by Alex Marker, where a broken frame envelopes the space and creates a pleasingly artsy proscenium arch.

For all of its potential, hinted at in an all-too-brief discussion about the truth to be found in portraiture, Gooch’s brush strokes paint his subject poorly.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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