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Letter from London

January-February 2023, no. 450

Letter from London

January-February 2023, no. 450

After its recent political and financial traumas, your correspondent arrived in London expecting to find a sombre, subdued city. Far from it. The Christmas lights were blazing in the West End, and on the weekends it was almost impossible to move while battling the hordes. But it was noticeable that few people were actually carrying shopping bags, and though the stores were crammed, the actual lines at the counters were remarkably short. The high-end restaurants were packed with pre-Christmas parties; after all, in London the rich you will always have with you. It may be my imagination, but the gaiety seemed slightly hysterical, as though this were a version of the duchess of Richmond’s ball – a last frolic before the onslaught.

Off a Trafalgar Square inexcusably packed with tacky little stalls hawking tourist paraphernalia, the National Gallery is exhibiting a disappointing Lucien Freud exhibition. A few iconic pictures are surrounded by juvenilia and by what appear to be rather formal, uninteresting commissioned portraits. Elsewhere in the building is a comprehensive showing of Winslow Homer, which emphasises his range from the Civil War pictures through the atmospheric sea and landscapes, to the lyrical Bahamian watercolours. Alongside Tate Modern’s blockbuster Cézanne extravaganza is a much less ballyhooed but interesting exhibition A Year in Art: Australia 1992. Built around the Mabo decision, it concentrates on the issues of colonialism and land rights that appear to be something of a revelation to the British.

The racism probed in this exhibition is also a major theme in London’s theatre. At the National, Clint Dyer’s production of Othello is literally flashy, with much use of strobe lighting. At the start, as projections of program covers from past productions appear, an actor sweeps the stage. Plainly, we are being told this will be a radical rethink. In fact, it is a rather noisy, superficial affair. From the pre-publicity, one would imagine no previous production had uncovered the themes of racism and sexism that that are endemic to the play. There is a warning to the sensitive that ‘this production contains racially offensive language and imagery, and depictions of mental and physical abuse and violence’. Well yes, it’s Othello.

Comment (1)

  • Change or more probably simply decline.
    Posted by Patrick Hockey
    05 January 2023

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