Nude with Violin

It was one of the hottest Saturdays in July. It was beautiful.

The summer of 2013 was certainly turning out to be the best since 2006. UK summers over the last 6 years have been a let down. Much was promised by the ever optimistic weather diviners, but few of their predictions had come to pass.

2013 was proving much better with long days of constant sunshine and temperatures regularly hitting 30 degrees. A Boulevardier should never demonstrate a physical manifestation of overheating or worse sweating so it was important to select suitable clothing and activity.

I had a beautiful lunch with my friend Jane at Melange in Crouch End, where we respectively enjoyed walnut and Roquefort and tuna steak salads, while sitting in the lovely sun. As the temperature rose we moved inside to maintain a cool appearance.

Jane left and the afternoon was spent relaxing in the garden with another friend Michael. We were barely moving and relished conversation filled with art, books, music and theatre. We were indeed off to the theatre together that evening.

Late afternoon we made the short journey to Highgate, and partook of a late afternoon drink at The Flask, which incidentally is across the road from George Michael’s London home. Unfortunately he was nowhere to be seen either to star spot or sing us a song. After several glasses of refreshing Malbec (me only) we consumed some pre theatre food and took the few steps to the Gatehouse Pub.

Storms were brewing, temperatures were going up and the humidity hung in the air creating a tropical atmosphere.

The theatre named ‘Upstairs at the Gatehouse’ delivers exactly what it says on the tin, and is in fact on the first floor in the Gatehouse Pub. I am sure many of you will have seen the Gatehouse, as it sits at the top of Highgate Village, next to the junctions heading to Kenwood and Hampstead. The appearance of the pub externally is Tudor, and I believe to be one of the oldest in the area. It is also allegedly haunted, although I saw no phantom apparitions.

The bar area was disappointingly generic, lots of light wood panelling, coupled with loud carpet and banquette seating. We headed upstairs to the ‘green room’ which was a fabulous mixture of props, posters and furniture, appearing as a spare room where everything is shoved that you don’t want to display. In the corner we eyed with anticipation a regular domestic chest freezer with signed promises of ice cream.

At the appointed time we, with the other patrons, were called into the theatre, which was a mid-sized auditorium set in the round with rows of stadium crushed velvet seating. We sat in the middle on the back row.

The temperature was going up.

The play was a little known Noel Coward piece called Nude with Violin, which is set in Paris in the mid-1950s. It’s a beautiful comedy of manners set in the drawing room of a recently deceased world renowned artist, Paul Sorodin. His estranged but most immediate family have gathered to sort out the estate in the absence of a will.

As the drama unfolds various characters turn up with letters signed by the artist confirming that they indeed painted the pictures of various periods of his career. In fact we are left wondering whether he actually painted anything himself.

To avoid the scandal the family and the art dealer set about trying to contain the secret with the assistance of the ever present, ever listening, multi skilled valet.

It’s not particularly fast paced, and the entertainment came from the clever and witty one liners.

The theatre itself has not yet been able to invest in air conditioning and the 3 fans and one portable unit could not stop the ever increasing temperature, and despite the claps of thunder (I wondered whether they were indeed part of the production), the air did not cool.

In the interval we headed for ice cream and some air. While it was cooler outside of the auditorium it was far from cool, and the rain was heavy so rather than risk flat hair we had to stand by the open outer pub doors and try and cool down. The creamy vanilla ice cream helped.

Things seemed to get hotter in the second act. By the end I was sticky beyond belief and feeling a little dizzy, which was a shame as it was a wonderfully funny tale ridiculing the world of modern art, with which I agree.

It reminded me of a visit some years ago to Flowers East on Richmond Road in Hackney when I lived there. I had seen some beautiful paintings on the first floor, and took some very arty friends, Rita and Andre, to view. The ground floor contained what I like to call ‘paint splodges’, and when we headed to the first floor I was aghast to realise that my favoured exhibition had been replaced by more paint splodges.

‘Oh no! These paintings are the same as downstairs!’ I exclaimed.

A curator appeared and informed us in an irritated manner ‘These have absolutely nothing to do with the exhibition downstairs.’

‘They look the same to me.’ I said

‘To the untrained eye maybe.’ He replied with an ever increasing patronising tone.

‘If that’s training my eye, I would rather stay unpretentious and untrained.’ I added, and at this he scurried back to his room. Rita, Andre and I nearly fell to the floor laughing.

It is ridiculous, and I am well aware that I don’t ‘understand’ some modern art, but I am not sure I want to. Educating Rita springs to mind (and not the aforementioned Rita).

I guess a good Boulevardier has to maintain a pretence of being in tune with the art world, but maybe I am more independent and happy to confidently assert my own opinion at the utter rubbish which can be defined as modern art.

So Mr Coward I am right there with you in ridiculing something so easily set up to be mocked.

TNW

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