"Gainsborough through Cecil Beaton’s eyes"
by Rebecca Wall on 11/05/19

The prospect of a play about the great eighteenth-century English painter Thomas Gainsborough was enough to catch my eye and pique my curiosity; discovering that it was written by the twentieth-century fashion photographer and dandy Cecil Beaton made watching it a necessity.

The story opens with Gainsborough and his family moving from the elegant yet provincial city of Bath to London. As the artist’s daughters, Margaret and Mary, make plans to buy a new wardrobe for the metropolis, Gainsborough begrudgingly seeks portrait commissions amongst the aristocracy. Like many an artist before and since, he struggles throughout the play to reconcile the need to support his family through the patronage of an elite he claims to despise with his desire to paint the subjects that truly inspire him.

Running in parallel with the artist’s struggle are the sibling rivalries that threaten to destroy the relationship and sanity of his daughters. While the elder Margaret is admired by all, Mary seeks to assert her own identity and desirability, with disastrous consequences. Although the figure of Gainsborough as tormented genius may stray slightly into the realm of stereotype, Beaton portrays the complexities and ambiguities of sisterly love with great plausibility, while his exploration of the themes of class and celebrity are equally timeless. A highly recommended production that I thoroughly enjoyed.

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