August 1939 and 27 year-old artist, Keith Vaughan is writing in his diary, the “intimate friend to whom everything had to be said - feelings, acts of all sorts, dreams”. It’s a devotion that he will keep for forty years.
This one-man production draws on those remarkably perceptive and poignant journals to paint a portrait of a great Neo-Romantic, idiosyncratic artist who would ultimately set himself impossibly high standards.
And so we follow him as war preparations begin and there is a sense that there are opportunities to make a difference, to become somebody. As a conscientious objector he works in the ambulance service and the non-combatant Pioneer Corp, describing in graphic detail the care of bomb victims; bundles of “wool and flesh and bandage”. He still paints; showing figures lamenting their inability to exult in love in this blitzed landscape, but his scenes will see him arrested as a fifth columnist.
Flicking forward, other excerpts tell of a gentle holiday romance in Mexico which will haunt him down the years, his bewilderment at the bright, brilliant Pop Art movement that left him feeling like a dinosaur, an awkward trip to Marrakesh that fails to heal his psychological wounds. Each reveals something of the loss and the loneliness he felt, his anxiety honed by homoerotic yearnings which may never find fulfilment in a lasting relationship. There is also scathing humour and frustration levelled at performance art and anti-pornography campaigners.
As the years slip by, stale, unlived, unloved and with “opportunities that never came” we are left to witness how the last page of a troubled existence will be filled.
Peter Scott-Presland has done well to adapt what must be a wealth of material. The self-doubting Vaughan presents a challenge in that he appears brooding, melancholic and detached. After his death he was described as a “stoic puritan” and “a passionate man who held himself private, contained and reasonable. Only occasionally did his vehemence break out in an irritable intolerance or in wild romantic love.”
As such it’s a gentle tribute to the artist in this centenary year of his birth. The telling could have more theatrical impact and Scott-Presland never really inhabits the character, often staring off to one side of the stage, leaving us feeling like we are hearing the diary but not seeing the man. The all-important art is also projected on a screen to one side and feels tacked on. It should be brought into the story and shown on a canvas on stage. The music also needs more consideration.
There is merit in working further on this production – there is more to be unlocked.
Show Times: Runs to 25 August 2012; 12.50pm
Ticket Prices: £10 (£7)