Set in April 1961 on the occasion of the death of artist and companion Vanessa Bell, Grant (Gerry Sont) pieces together the fragments, whispers and incessant doorknocks that changed Grant’s life and altered his prismatic experiments into free love. Grant was as unconventional in love as he was in art. Throughout the play Grant recalls that he was named many things during his life; a leading exponent of British post-impressionist painting, a conscientious objector, a flagrant homosexual, Vanessa Bell’s lover, Angelica Bell’s father and British art society’s celebrated darling of Modernism.
Most of all however - in the words of Bell herself- it was Grant’s “ disinterestedness, sincerity and simplicity” that enamoured him to so many regardless of gender, class or sexual persuasion which serves as the true leitmotif in The Object of Desire. Britton’s script embroiders a brilliant shimmery tapestry of belle lettres, events, recollections, silken moments and fanciful imaginings with great theatricality, quirky stylisation and wicked glints. Embraced with great gusto by the eleven member multitalented cast of many voices in the confines of the salon style theatre in Carlton. Laced together by the whimsical - indeed almost choreographed - performance by the highly mercurial and physical actor Gerry Sont.
Sont is principle storyteller in what is predominantly, a series of eclectic animated vignettes, from an impressive cast of changelings. Including Lytton Strachey (Phil Roberts) who was instrumental in introducing Grant to the coterie of Bloomsbury artists and intellectuals, Roberts was enormously delightful with his clipped English accent and eccentric patrician performance. John Maynard Keyes (Jonathon Dwyer) was Grant’s lover, muse and European travel companion for many years. Dwyer’s performance paired a quirky stoicism alongside sharp comic timing to great effect.
Bloomsbury critic and the over-opinionated wet blanket on overt phallic representations - DH Lawrence (Christopher Pender) - swept through some of the play’s slow laboured moments with a fresh breeze of ironic dissenting tension. Excellent stand out performances were by the cast’s only women performers, Robynne Kelly as the evanescent towering matriarchal lesbian, Virginia Woolf and Fabienne Parr as the gentle graceful and tirelessly compassionate artist Vanessa Bell. And David Foster is both a talented actor and singer, his role as war poet Rupert Brooke imbibed the play with a memorable lyrical moment.
Designer Anthony Breslin beautifully evoked the artistic environments of Grant’s studios, including Charleston, with a painterly avalanche of ornate frames and post-impressionist canvases.
Britton has collaborated with Fly-On-The-Wall Director co-writer Robert Chuter for over a decade to create nostalgic melancholic theatre with a hint of Merchant and Ivory costume melodrama. It’s not everyone’s cup of chai.
Keep an eye out for Fearless , a television documentary about Julia Britton’s life and playwriting to air on Ovation Channel on March 21, 2007.
Fly-On-The-Wall Theatre presents
The Object Of Desire
The Story of artist Duncan Grant
Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton
Dates: 24 Jan – 11 Feb, 2007
Times: Wednesdays & Sundays @ 6.30pm; Thursdays - Saturdays @ 8.00pm
Further Information: www.lamama.com.au