A WEST END CHRISTMAS AT ST PAUL’S CHURCH, COVENT GARDEN
By Richard Fitzwilliams
St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, which was built by Inigo Jones in 1633, is known as the Actor’s Church. The theatrical connection dates back to when it became the ecclesiastical parish for famous local theatres. During the festive season, its garden is exquisitely lit and during part of this event its interior was bathed in a kaleidoscope of colours.
It was an ideal venue for a joyous evening in aid of TheatreMAD with the inimitable Christopher Biggins, clad in a jersey featuring an outsize reindeer, as host! The Rector of St Paul’s, the Reverend Simon Grigg, welcomed the guests and conducted the raffle. It was held on a Sunday and the casts of several top West End musicals gave up part of the one day they have off during the week to perform carols and lyrics which are synonymous with the season of goodwill.
There was a delightful series of performances from the casts of shows as diverse as The Phantom of the Opera, 42nd Street and Five Guys Named Moe. Highlights included the soprano Maria Kesselman giving a marvellous rendition of O Holy Night and the actor Cedric Neal’s singing of Is That Ok? (This Christmas). Mulled wine and mince pies were available during the interval. Specially choreographed opening and closing numbers included climactic dancing in the aisles which, in a charming touch, were strewn with rose petals.
The evening was in aid of TheatreMAD which raises funds to fight HIV/AIDS. Melanie Tranter, Chairman of The Make a Difference Trust reminded us that there are over 2 million children living with HIV worldwide. TheatreMAD is the theatre industry’s response to fighting it and it is involved in awareness and educational projects at home and abroad. The help it offers has been described as “turning a taboo subject into a conversation”
Appropriately, the evening began and ended with popular hymns. This lovely church, which contains plaques to the memory of many of our leading actors, has hosted this event in previous years and provided a unique ambience for these joyous festivities.
MODIGLIANI TATE MODERN
Amedeo Modigliani was an unorthodox figurative artist who specialized in portraiture and much influenced the genre. However, gazing at his trademark elongated faces, long necks and eyes that are often blank, I wondered if his idiosyncratic style illuminated or disguised the characters of some of his sitters.
What is unquestioned is the extraordinary reputation he built up despite his untimely death at the age of 35. He suffered from ill-health for most of his life and only held one solo exhibition of his work which was prematurely closed. This show begins with a self-portrait of himself as Pierrot, a mysterious, rather haunting image. His busts, a variety of which are displayed here, reflect the classical, African and Egyptian influences from which he derived so much inspiration.
He lived in Montmartre and documentary films introduce us to the Paris of the Belle Epoque which was a major influence as were important artistic figures such as Picasso and Brancusi, whom he befriended. He painted numerous portraits of his famous contemporaries, including a memorable depiction of Diego Rivera, the radical artist. Often, their personalities are subsumed by his quirky style but his portrait of Jean-Baptiste Alexandre with a Crucifix, however is notable as it shows he could paint a conventional likeness with considerable skill.
The major feature of this show is his nudes. Most of them are curvaceous and richly coloured and some of the works are extremely large and were considered provocative. They are strikingly unconventional and have enormous magnetism. It is widely considered to be Modigliani who modernised the nude.
He and his mistress, Jeanne Hebuterne, (please note acute accent on H”e”b) moved to the South of France and his portraits from this period are characterised by warm, gentle colours. The most famous is The Little Peasant which captures the rustic lifestyle in appropriately muted colours so skilfully. They returned to Paris but sadly the confidence his Self-Portrait from 1919 radiates is deceptive as his health was deteriorating badly.
A virtual reality show, Modigliani VR: The Ochre Atelier, recreates his final studio in Paris. The visitor is seated and, though the headgear is uncomfortable, the 3D experience is highly ingenious.
This is a highly imaginative tribute to the talents of this ground-breaking painter.