Thursday 19th May 2022 at Hope Theatre, London.
Reviewer: Maygan Forbes
Set in a dystopian future, 100 Paintings tells the story of a young artist and his mother struggling to survive in the crumbling Savoy Hotel. Battling mountains of unpaid hotel bills, the artist (played by Conrad Williamson) has three days to produce one-hundred original paintings and deliver them to the new hotel manager or he and his mother (played by Denise Stephenson) face being turned out onto the street. However the task is not as easy as you would expect, and with hilarious distractions that are influenced by the world of chaos the painter and his mother reside in, hope for the future seems far too distant.
100 paintings is an experimental play that toys with the notion of a world that has exhausted itself from the realities of day to day living and is in the midst of an apocalypse. With “horse drawn Teslas” and oxygen masks a necessity for survival, we are reminded of the earth’s fragile structure and the shatterable sensibilities of man.
The larger than life painter shuffles on to the scene wearing a paint splattered Savoy robe, a sharp indication of his social positioning regardless of the decay happening outside the walls of the Savoy. Despite being on the brink of financial ruin, the painter and his mother still hold social capital and this is highlighted in future interactions with other characters that invade the space.
Williamson is fantastic as the painter, a larger than life character whose endeavours are wholly supported by his eccentric mother. If any readers are familiar with the shows Arrested Development and Absolutely Fabulous, think a hybrid of Lucille Bluth (played by Jessica Walter) and Patsy Stone (played by Joanna Lumley).
Denise Stephenson is a treat on stage and fully embodies the role of the overbearing, Freudian dream mother who has a weirdly voyeuristic obsession with her son’s sex life. So much so that she believes her son’s fascination with painting women is a result of his closeted sexual desires, and as one mother does, she finds the nearest sex worker who she pays extra to not talk. Directed by Zachary Hart and with set design by Zsofia Sarosi, you are fully immersed into this new way of living during the duration of the play. Stepping outside of the venue actually felt slightly surreal as the stage was so well directed and positioned.
Written by Jack Stacey, 100 Paintings touches on several societal conflicts that continue to permeate humanity, despite being in the midst of an apocalypse. The mother’s attitude to women she deems inappropriate for her son is an example of her entitlement and the privilege she continues to hold in a crumbling world. She employs the use of a sex worker for her son’s benefit, thinking it will further inspire him to paint, however she holds a deep personal vitriol for the job at hand. By referring to the sex worker Eva (played by the brilliant Juliet Garricks) as a slab of meat that is only there to serve one purpose, the micro aggressions are actually deeply uncomfortable to watch.
Garricks is great in this role, a late starter in the world of professional acting, she is hilarious and beautiful to watch on stage. I couldn’t help but notice a race critique playing out on stage also, Garricks plays a Caribbean lady who is bold and feisty. There is a lot to unpack for her character but the main takeaway I got was oppression continues to thrive in an apocalyptic world. Beatriz (played by Jane Christie) is the artists love interest and his main inspiration for his final piece. She introduces herself as a “bibliognist” (one that has comprehensive knowledge of books and bibliography) and works as a librarian. She is from the north of England and her accent holds in stark contrast to the distinction Received Pronunciation accents of the artist and his mother.
It is obvious there is an issue of class between the mother and Beatriz, the mother uses the size of Beatriz’s head as a reason for her disdain however the snobbery is overwhelming. Christie is perfect in this role, warm and funny, full of wisdom whilst reminding unbearably ditsy. She holds a great balance between a multitude of character traits.
I was captivated from the start, 100 paintings is wildly entertaining and does not leave any room for doubt about the occurrences on stage. I left the play with questions about the state of society; the world on stage seemed far too real and possible in this lifetime.
100 Paintings plays Hope Theatre until June 4th 2022 and you can find your tickets here.