ALAN Franks’s viscerally intimate Looking at Lucian, in which the small auditorium at Bath Theatre Royal is transformed into the Kensington studio of portrait painter Lucian Freud, could be described as fly-on-the-wall.
But as the painter and his unidentified sitter work together over ten months, each moment of Freud’s reminiscenatory conversation is as precise as the carefully crafted brush strokes that make up his remarkable paintings.
Grandson of Sigmund, estranged brother of Stephan, the oldest of the three, and the youngest (now disgraced) politician, writer and broadcaster Clement, Lucian came to London when his Jewish-German mother and Austrian father fled the Nazis in 1933. Later he served on the North Atlantic convoys.
He went to school at Dartington, and later at Bryanston. He was expelled from both.
An intensely private man, who famously refused to be interviewed, his mercurial wit, powerful physical appetites and charismatic certainties put him at the centre of an artists enclave in London. Reputedly the father of up to 40 children, Freud’s marriages and many affairs are the stuff of legend.
Journalist Franks wrote his solo play with “a wish list of one – Henry Goodman” to play the artist … and he was so right. The actor, whose physical similarities add to his magnificent performance, inhabits the world, the shades, the passions and the dedicated obsession of the 20th century’s greatest portrait painter.
Talking to his celebrity-fascinated sitter, he touches on his controversial portrait of HMQ, of Jerry Hall, Mick Jagger, Francis Bacon, Sir Lester Piggott and several self-important captains of industry, on Kate Moss, Big Sue “the benefits supervisor”, and his own mother.
Twinkling charm is interspersed with violent rage as the correct paint (even if it is banned by health and safety) is applied in tiny strokes to the canvas, which the audience never sees.
This is a play for any fan of Freud’s work, but it is also a masterpiece of the genre of solo shows, performed with an unselfconscious bravura and a passionate belief. This fourth play in the Bath Theatre Royal summer season is on until 2nd September. See it if you possibly can.
All photographs by Nobby Clark