Rose Theatre, Kingston – until 21 October 2018
I like a two-show day. They’re efficient, lots of play for one train ticket, even if the risks of a numb arse and some knotty lower back issues are high.
The latest addition to my collection of these is Hogarth’s Progress at the Rose Theatre in Kingston (my first visit: a nice, modern venue, great cafe, slightly weird auditorium, no armrests). Not strictly a double bill in the sense of a play and an immediate sequel, Hogarth’s Progress consists of two plays by Nick Dear: The Art of Success, 30 years old, and a new companion piece, The Taste of the Town, set 30 years later. Both tell the story of William Hogarth, artist and satirist, his wife Jane and a fluctuating cast of friends and enemies. Presented in rep – only one actor gets away with not being in both – it’s an interesting take on a two-show day.
It’s also for me very much a double bill of two halves, so to speak. The Art of Success was not for me. I found it muddled and puerile, trying too hard to shock (and failing). It doesn’t feel like it knows what it wants to be. Is it a history play? A morality play? A satire? A musing on the nature of art? It tries to do all these things and almost inevitably succeeds at doing none of them. I found it quite boring and really not very funny.
The Taste of the Town, on the other hand, I really enjoyed. It’s a clear-headed and focused play about loss, regret and death. It’s much more punchy and far funnier. It’s still sweary and brash but the stronger plot and thematic coherence gives the vulgarity meaning and context. It’s a far, far stronger piece of writing. And I laughed a lot.
What I would say, though, is even though I didn’t enjoy the first play that much it’s still really interesting to see them both together. Not only for the way it fills out the understanding of Hogarth’s story but also, and possibly more so, for the way it allows you an insight into the development of Dear’s writing. I’ve said it already, but this is a really fun take on the double bill.
The production of both shows is strong too. Anthony Banks’ direction is solid and his storytelling is crystal clear (even if I could have stood things being a bit quicker, particularly in the first play). The use of the weirdly cavernous Rose space with it’s huge, slightly industrial, stage is really good and everything looks sort of grimly gorgeous. Andrew D Edwards’ design is really effective, I loved the massive screen that formed 99% of the set and backdrop, and Douglas O’Connell’s projection makes it even better. There’s some lovely use of lighting as scenery from lighting designer James Whiteside too.
The cast is also really strong. As previously mentioned, all but one of them have different parts in the two plays. The one who escapes is Keith Allen, who makes up for having the afternoon off with a fantastically good fun older Hogarth in the second play. As ever, he is essentially playing himself but it totally works here. Amongst the harder working cast member (soz Keith) Mark Umbers gets the pick of the parts with Robert Walpole and David Garrick on his to do list. He plays both of them with great poise and his swaggering Garrick in the second play is a particular highlight. The reliably excellent Ian Hallard is, reliably, excellent (haven’t used that line in a while) as a genuinely disgusting toff in play one and a mischievously bitchy Horace Walpole in play two.
There are some fantastic parts for the actresses in the cast too, still a rarer sentence than it should be. Jasmine Jones is a ray of light (well after a fashion) as the murderous murderess Sarah Sprackling in play one. Susannah Harker and Sylvestra Le Touzel sparkle in play two as an older Jane Hogarth and her formidable mother respectively.
For all that this is an uneven double bill, it does work well. It looks great, the cast are strong and it’s an interesting experiment in the use of a two show day. If you only have time to see one, I would undoubtedly recommend The Taste of the Town – for my money the only one to merit a standalone viewing.
Hogarth’s Progress is at The Rose Kingston until 21st October. There are upcoming two show days on both the 20th and the 21st.
My seat for this one was B10 in the stalls for £17.50 (a discount because my friend’s cousin is the producer there, though the discount wasn’t linked to this post in any way).