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Review: Gainsborough’s Girls, at Tower Theatre

09 May, 2019 — By John Courtney O’Connor

Gainsbrough’s Girls – a ‘fine production’ at the Tower Theatre

“I HAD to face death before I could face life,” exclaims the former fop Lord Philpott (Anthony Rhodes), the love interest in Cecil Beaton’s play. The character has experienced war in the North American colonies and is disillusioned with his lot.

Thomas Gainsborough is, with Richard Wilson, credited as the originator of the 18th century British school of landscape painting. The play is set in Pall Mall in the spring of 1774, where the painter settled and earned a lucrative living as a portrait artist. He gained more satisfaction from landscape painting, however.

Beaton’s piece was first performed this year in Sudbury, Suffolk, where the landscape painter and portrait artist was born. The two-act play covers familiar territory with his daughters’ sibling rivalry, long-suffering wife, anguished agent and the artist’s own pursuit of creative excellence.

The production boasts many outstanding performances including a relaxed, intuitive one by Simon Lee as the great man himself, and a very spirited performance by Janet South as his wife Margaret. Gainsborough’s girls are nicely played Emily McCormick and Emily Deane.

Beaton, who won three Tony awards on Broadway for costume and set design, and Academy Awards for Gigi and My Fair Lady, was a lifelong fan of the painter and hoped to have the piece performed under the title “Landscape with Figures” with the actor/manager Donald Wolfit. But he and Beaton fell out.

This is a fine production directed by David Taylor with an excellent framed set designed by Peter Forster and costume design by Kathleen Morrison and Sue Carling.

Until May 11
020 7353 1700

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