Seated (BBC4, Wednesday 10.30pm)
Verdict: You are being pulled
Scaramouche Jones (stream, theater)
Verdict: Richie born again
Sadie (BBC iPlayer)
Verdict: Grainy but powerful
People worry about the wrong things when they get painted. They think they will be bored or restless. But what they really need to worry about is what they will say when they start to relax.
I’ve painted a few portraits in my time and I know from experience that sitters will share amazing things with you. Like you are a priest or a psychiatrist.
Therein lies the brilliance of Katherine Parkinson’s play Sitting, which premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 2018 and can be seen on BBC4 next Wednesday, and then on iPlayer.
Katherine Parkinson’s play Sitting premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 2018 and can be seen next Wednesday on BBC4 and then on iPlayer. Pictured: Parkinson’s in a sitting state
It is about three people who have their portraits painted. One is a workers decorator, Luke (Mark Weinman), who loves and hates his pregnant wife.
Another is a young actor, Cassandra (Alex Jarrett), who, in true millennial style, sees herself as ‘vulnerable but strong’.
And finally, there’s Parkinson’s herself, as a tired, middle-aged woman who fondly remembers her childhood when she looked like Meat Loaf (the man, not the main course).
I thought it was a bit contrived at first, but I was soon hypnotized by Parkinson’s subtly plotted yarn that deftly pulls you in as the trio’s secrets emerge. Their latest revelations turn out to be unexpectedly moving.
Roxana Halls’ paintigs of Mark Weinman, Katherine Parkinson and Alex Jarrett painting used in the play Sitting, about three people having their portraits painted
Parkinson’s is a crafty and observant writer, noting how people talk when yawning, or how life-changing phone calls come “ halfway through a satsuma. ”
The only thing I regret is that we see the painter – and his portraits – at the end. Jeremy Herrin’s production is simple and direct, against a gray background in a bare-board studio, and speaks directly to the viewer – that’s why I didn’t want to see the artist, who is alone instead of us.
But other than that, this moving trio of performances took me quite by surprise.
Scaramouche Jones show Shane Richie like you’ve never seen him before.
Forget Alfie Moon in EastEnders. Here the cheeky dude is transformed into a seedy low life – the son of a whore, born in the port of Trinidad in Spain at the beginning of the 19th century.
He is sold to an Arab merchant, who flogs him to a snake charmer in Senegal. Rescued by a Venetian prince, he coincides with Gypsies in Mussolini’s Italy – then digs graves in a Nazi concentration camp.
Scaramouche Jones shows Shane Richie (pictured) as you’ve never seen him before
Justin Butcher’s play, first starring Pete Postlethwaite in 2001, is a bitterly sardonic ride through the 20th century. It gargles with gallows humor and has brutal adventures in markets, brothels and fleas.
Richie recounts the action from his dressing room after a final performance as a circus clown in the last hour of the 20th century.
He is almost unrecognizable in his bowler hat; white face paint with sweat and tears. His dubious Arabic accent is perhaps more of a Russian meerkat than an Egyptian souk.
But, directed by Ian Talbot, Richie delivers his character with a blemish and a snarl.
Even darker is David Ireland’s play Sadie, about a tough Belfast cleaning lady whose life diverges when she has an affair with a younger man.
It’s a bit like The Jeremy Kyle Show, without the safety net of security guards, as Ireland’s staunch story plays out in themes of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
You need a strong stomach for the production of Conleth Hill, filmed at the Lyric Theater in Belfast (and now on iPlayer, after opening BBC’s Lights Up season of drama produced with theaters in the UK).
What stunned me was Abigail McGibbon’s stunning performance as the caustic cleaner. It is an enchanting study of volatility, loneliness, anger and despair.
Patrick Jenkins sings bonhomie as her Catholic uncle (by marriage), while David Pearse is strangely good-natured as her misogynistic ex-husband.
Be warned: Ireland writes about people whose lives are a traumatized mess. He shows Ulster as he finds it: deeply damaged and disturbed.
A cheerfully frivolous show
Pirates Of Penzance (stream.theater)
Verdict: G&S at your G&T
Lighter – much lighter – entertainment can be found in Sasha Regan’s cheerfully frivolous, all-male production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, which was filmed at the Palace Theater in London in December.
Buff young men wear cream-colored shirts, shorts, and DMs like the titular pirates, before donning cream-colored skirts and corsets to the chorus of giggling girls.
The joke wears off after a while; and long before the end, I began to long for equal opportunities for real women. Fortunately, Regan’s production is very well-driven; and the warm song carries more than the day.
Close your eyes and you can easily assume that Alan Richardson is shy, love-important Mabel – his occasional squeaks and screeches are all part of the fun.
But my favorite was David McKechnie as Mabel’s dad – the model of a modern Major General, complete with a bushy Victorian beard.
Sing along with favorites like When The Foeman Bares His Steel (te-ren-te-ri, te-ren-te-ra!), A (Most Ingenious) Paradox and of course A Policeman’s Lot, for a wonderfully varied two hours.