Brighton Fringe 2009
The Angel and The Fiend
Anthony Penrose Ensemble
Venue: Friend’s Meeting House
Festival: Brighton Fringe
I was expecting a reading with photography, an interesting night but nothing too serious. What I experienced was one of the most powerful pieces of theatre I have seen in a very long time, a remarkable trip down memory lane, enhanced by voices and pictures from the past. Absolutely incredible.
I entered the Friend’s Meeting House with a little trepidation. I was expecting a nice, relaxed evening, a collection of Lee Miller photographs and some readings, which I would have had no idea how to review. To my surprise, the performance was so much more than that, a tight, emotional and powerful piece, a beautiful collage of photos and memories. Lee Miller was brought to life through a combination of her words, thoughts, and photographs, and her life was portrayed in the most humble and appreciative way possible. I admit that I left feeling moved: this was stunningly powerful theatre.
The set-up was simple: a large screen had images projected onto it from Miller’s life, some her own, some the work of her peers, who included Picasso, Man Ray and her husband, Roland Penrose. To the side, actors sat with scripts, each with little clipped on reading lamps that illuminated their faces in an eerie, talking heads fashion. Miller’s son, Anthony Penrose, guided the events as a benign narrator, a personal touch to the photography. The fact that Miller’s grand-daughter was reading as Miller also added to the piece’s rounded, personal edge. The other actors gave their lines verve and passion, and although their accents were not always perfect, their delivery was excellent, and the lines leapt off of the page beautifully, probably due to most of them being taken from correspondence. The woman playing Lee Miller performed her lines very truthfully, and the decision to mike her up was inspired, as it gave her words an ethereal quality that echoed around the hall. Anthony Penrose was clearly the least experienced actor/performer, but his calm and pleasant manner and delivery tied the whole piece together very well.
The projections were astonishing: the real star of the show. A bizarre combination of pictures of Miller herself, pictures she took, artwork by Picasso, diary excerpts, and so on, made for a delightfully colourful collection, a rapid-fire insight into Miller’s mind and life. Combined with the haunting delivery and staging, and the inspiring script, they made the piece an even more personal experience, to the point where a late reveal of staggering emotional intensity nearly had me sobbing: something I rarely do. I actually left rather quickly due to the emotional response the piece gave me, an experience of awe and attachement.
In many ways, this performance was not your typical theatrical event, but this did nothing to diminish its power and verve. I’m disappointed to hear that it will not be taken elsewhere, and a lack of information, both online and through the lack of a programme, means I cannot give credit where it is due, which is a shame. This performance is exceptionally acted, directed and written, and needs to be given other arenas to be performed in, and I would recommend it to anyone without a moment’s hesitation.