My mother once told me a story about a writer who said that he used to walk past people on the street and spend the rest of the day thinking about their lives. This one line story sums up a certain kind of imaginative artist, who is likely do the same thing for inanimate people as well. This is the premise of Give Me Your Hand, a staged reading of a collection of poems by Paul Durcan, based on characters in paintings at the National Gallery of London.
The small stage in the intimate basement space of The Irish Repertory Theatre is occupied by Dermot Crowley, Dearbhla Molloy and the projected image of the painting they are bringing to life. This production reads like something halfway between a staged reading and an art history lesson, though I do wish that it had been given a bit more of a push in either direction.
I'll admit that I had a very particular image in mind when I first heard of a play that would be "A poetical stroll through the National Gallery of London." I couldn't help but recall the first scene in Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things, where we watch a confrontation between a girl who is going to vandalize a statue and a reticent museum guard.
We never see the piece of art itself; instead we watch them watching and reacting to it, though this is not always the case. I am also reminded of the "statue trick" scene in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale in which Hermione actually poses as a statue which her husband examines closely. This idea of embodying art is also the subject of plenty of novels and movies, such as Tracy Chevalier's Girl With A Pearl Earring novel and subsequent movie based on the Vermeer painting of the same name.
I bring these examples up to show that there is something exciting and interesting to us about bringing an aspect of a living, breathing body to a two dimensional painting, or cold and solid statue. Though the concept is similar in Give Me Your Hand, the excitement is notably absent and instead replaced with calm. Because of the staged reading aspect of the show, the actors do not move about the stage, nor do the lines of the poems encourage any sort of movement. This disappointed me, as I am left unsure of director Richard Twyman's purpose in staging the play at all if he meant to keep this element of corporeality absent.
The piece is a must see for art history buffs, who will note many clever allusions and ironic twists in Durcan's language, but this is not a piece for anyone looking for a more traditional play--in fact, if that is what you're looking for than you should go upstairs and see Beyond the Horizon.
The tone of the piece is certainly light, but I actually think that this exceedingly smooth and steady aspect of the play works against it having any real impact. It is simply a fancifully elaborated audio tour of some interesting paintings, which is not a bad thing at all, but simply something an audience member should know going in. Basically, if you don't want to spend Sunday in the park with George, and you'd like to fill your day or night with art and stories, then Give Me Your Hand would be a nice alternative.
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