The Secret Life of Francis Bacon
at the Cramphorn Theatre
The bad boy of the British art scene in the Fifties and Sixties is brought triumphantly to life, warts and all, in this uncompromising one man show.
The performer, and the writer, is Garry Roost, whose physical appearance is not unlike Bacon's. But it is his insight into the man, his eccentricities and his vulnerability, that makes this portrait so vivid. We follow Francis to Paris in the 30s, London in the Blitz. We see his work develop; interior design, sketches, portraits, lying figures and screaming popes. And a colourful supporting cast – patrons, friends, lovers – is economically suggested with a few careful brush strokes.
A minimal set – a triptych of screens – a soundscape and a subtle score by Matthew Williams and Eddie Gray, who was a friend of the artist.
This unique performance, originally directed by Paul Garnault has been touring Australia, and will be on the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. We're lucky that it called in on Chelmsford on the way.
and for The Public Reviews
Bacon's iconic art is celebrated world-wide; his paintings hang in the best museums, his images are instantly recognisable – think Screaming Pope.
But what do we know of the man, his psyche, his sexuality and his “secret life”?
Garry Roost's intriguing one-man show, somewhere between autobiography, confessional and stream of consciousness, pulls no punches. We see the artist as transvestite, lusting after stable lads, cruising and cottaging, seducing a young burglar who breaks in through the skylight, shoplifting, pickpocketing and running a gambling den. We learn that he was “painfully shy”, but was determined to “live life to the full”. We go with him to Berlin in the 30s, to Paris, and to dinner at the Orwells, where he rubs shoulders with Spender and Giacometti. And in one of the most striking moments, into the nightmare of the Blitz, with Bacon the ARP warden.
The art is not neglected, however. We see him roll up his sleeves as he waits for inspiration. He begins by designing rugs. He is influenced by Poussin and Velasquez, Muybridge and Michelangelo. His work merges the x-ray and the photograph, the inside and the outside, an entire movie compressed in a single frame. He suffers brickbats from the Daily Mail and the Times, he is outraged at being judged “insufficiently surreal”.
The simple setting consists of three pop-up screens, recalling his love of the triptych form.
Roost's physical incarnation of his subject is remarkable: fleshy, outrageous, sweary, pouting and preening, he gives an energetic, expressionistic performance that is sometimes incoherent, sometimes shockingly candid, but never dull for a moment. His face, contorted like putty, recalls the tortured faces in the paintings. Often with the help of the screens, he becomes many of the other characters that people his eventful life. A lawyer who spots his talent early on, Jessie, his childhood nanny and his partner in petty crime, and a succession of partners and “well-built working men”.
He begins his hour with us by recalling his father, veteran of the Boer War, “thrashing the pansy out of him”, and ends with Wilde's sententious advice - “Be yourself – everyone else is already taken ...” It is a totally convincing impersonation, capturing the body language and the mannerisms of the original, the wit, the sarcasm and the temper, but also powerfully suggesting the deeper passions and the unique personality of the artist and the man. “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery,” Bacon once said, and while this superb solo show goes some way to demystify the man, the art is wisely left unseen and sibylline.
this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews