When we think of artists, we think of them by their surnames: Picasso, Van Gogh and (I thought) Rembrandt. But unusually Rembrandt HarmensOon van Rijn was known by his first name. An interesting fact I must say. Sadly, that was about as interesting as Asking Rembrandt got.
It’s strange, the set (designed by Alex Marker) was fantastic – huge, ornate gilt frames draped about the stage in a very artistic manner, sketches scattered around and paintbrushes tossed aside on the workbench – not to mention the art itself, which was pretty incredible. In fact it’s probably the best set I’ve seen at the Old Red Lion.
Acting too was fairly strong from the small cast of four, with John Gorick as Jan Six reminisce of Simon Callow as he marched about the stage and Esmé Patey-Ford was very believable as the feisty, yet motherly character of Henni, Rembrandt’s mistress. Liam McKenna as Rembrandt himself did well as a sullen, brooding artist with a softer side.
Yet the script (by Steve Gooch) is weak. The scenes are choppy, with no real concept for the audience of how long has passed, nor why it matters; between scenes props are moved and actors acknowledge each other almost for the sake of it. Henni’s pregnancy helps us work out a rough timeframe of events, but that part of the story bears little importance to the overall play (despite the fact that she was the third of Rembrandt’s daughters to be called Cornelia) and doesn’t make it any more exciting.
In fact, nothing really happens at all. A lot is hinted at, but it never really gets going and some of the more interesting parts of Rembrandt’s life (such as his love affair with Geertje Dircx) are completely ignored.
The writing itself isn’t bad, but the topic seems an odd choice. There are also a few occasions when there’s swearing for no apparent reason – it’s not emphatic of character emotion and just comes as a bit of a surprise after the rest of the language used is very ‘nice’. One mercy is that the cast don’t attempt 17th century Dutch accents, but instead choose English accents from the same time period.
While there was a lot right with this play, the story itself lets it down, and without an engaging story, there’s not much point having a play.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Chris Gardner
Asking Rembrandt is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 18 July 2015. Click here for tickets