The Man Who Painted the Sea

The production I saw is on Friday is by ‘Explore the Arch’.  I had to look up ‘arch’ in my old dictionary. Arch : chief,  accomplished,  shrewd, pre-eminent, especially in evil.  In this extraordinary production we were served with a fine Russian feast,  with some of the ingredients slightly undercooked but without the course of evil. Thankfully goodness  prevailed.

The company claim to be explorers and leaders, and work hard to do what they say  bringing to us original music, magic, humour,  puppetry,  quirk, strangeness and charm. They are always engaging and enjoying themselves.

In this specially translated house in St Leonards the scene is set in 19th Century Russia with the Narrator and Director (Gail Borrows) takes us on a voyage from  the Crimea  through Russia with interludes including the Tsar, Glinka and Gogol  as our heroic painter  Ivan Aivazovsky (1817- 1900) journeys through the landscape (or seascape) of his life.

Aivazovsky, an Armenian,  was dubbed the’ Russian Turner’ in England as he also had the huge gift of being able to paint the sea.  Our local artists will know how difficult this can be.  It so keeps moving and changing. Nobody in Russia could paint it. Only Ivan.  And boy did he paint it and overpaint it.  He painted over 6000 oils (think Timothy Spall on speed );  well maybe not…

And the country loved it, from the Royal Family to the Russian Fleet, from Tsar to tar. The Pope bought a picture for the Vatican. And Aivazovsky kept on brushing , delighting Europe with his use of light and contrast, danger, depth and romance,  shimmer and sparkle, all depicted from memory.  Visitors at his exhibitions even  thought Ivan had placed  lamps behind his pictures!

Aivazovsky is played by the talented Fiona Hardy who held the show together as she shifts from an ambitious young man to a generous and sometimes raging senior.  Particular gifts  of Fiona include her geri-acting and gurning.  At times she  was hypnotic and magical,  especially in her stand out dance finale on the mantelpiece  in the music room.  I  know, we’ve  all done it…

Fiona  is ably supported by a talented troupe of  young actors and musicians including the Misses Beadle, Juliet and Alice, together with Cai Jones, all on violins and all from the Hastings Youth Orchestra.  A more advanced Vladimir Miller (Director of Music) wrote and arranged  the music, setting a Crimean melting pot tone nicely with Bjorn Dahlberg clarinetting and acting very well. The redoubtable Royston du Maurier-Lebek played the suitably blushing  bride with aplomb .

It  didn’t always work technically (think Heath Robinson meets Blue Peter at an origami evening). There are many levers for the paper dishes, cutlery and small metal bed frames with pastry  mattresses (really!) to drop down over our heads on cue.  But it didn’t matter and just added  to the often child-like fun.  The short last scene in the garden needs a look at or just needs rewiring.  An anti-climax after the brilliance of the music room.

The audience loved it with its combination of immersive theatre,  participation, combined visual arts and the idea of walking, sorry, perambulating around someone else’s home with a glass of chilled, white wine watching a play.

Explore the Arch are a relatively new local theatre company  and now  with Hastings Borough Council and Lottery funding and this successful production this ambitious company  can go from strength to strength.

The House of the Man who Painted the Sea is showing until August 20 at 7.30pm at Archer Lodge, Charles Road,  St Leonards on Sea  TN38 0QX