"Intimate theatre production that engages."
by Diane Samuels for remotegoat on 27/11/09

Paint stains smatter the floorboards, jars of brushes adorn shelves, copper plates wait to be wiped down to make etchings. Sketches of nudes hang all around. The Arcola theatre has been transformed into the studio of French artist, Edgar Degas. In her new play, 'The Line', Timberlake Wertenbake, whose 'Three Birds Alighting on a Field' explored the art market at the end of the twentieth century, has now set her sights back to the fin de siècle world of French art as it leaves behind the nineteenth century. She does this through the figure of Suzanne Valadon, raw talent in female form, untutored and seeking guidance from the 'maitre' himself. Their relationship unfolds, falls apart and matures over thirty years.

This is less of a bio-play - although a lot of life story is here - than a discursive piece about the artist's life, values and the relationship between teacher and pupil. Henry Goodman's achy perfectionist whose life is utterly dedicated to deepening his discipline and being guided by the old masters stalks, appreciates, dismisses and quietly adores by turns Sarah Smart's wilful and sensual Valadon. Goodman manages to hold sympathy for a man with seams of anti-semitism and misanthropy running keenly through him. As Valadon, Smart tends to raise her voice to emote but brings a lively Sarah Miles-like energy. Selina Cadell as Zoe Clozier, Degas' housekeeper, plays a subtle foil to both characters.

Whilst the production is astute and well-pitched under Matthew Lloyd's considered direction, this playing out of masculine and feminine, traditional and modern dialectics is engaging intellectually rather than emotionally. "The Line" is more like living art history executed with skill and care than full-blooded drama.

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