Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Beauty Abounds.

A full day. Patsy and I went over to Khadambi Asalache's house in Wandsworth Road which he bequeathed to the National Trust on his death four years ago. Asalache was a Kenyan exile who spent twenty years carving and creating an exquisite fretwork fantasy interior. Gary has recently added the property to his portfolio and is currently working out exactly how to open up, what is essentially a small family home, to visitors.

We were given a tour by the wonderful Ruth Clarke, the trust's community learning officer and Khadambi's widow Susie, who talked about her fear of academics coming in and 'theorising' over Khadambi's influences or motives. The reality, as she sees it, is that the house evolved organically rather than to design and she's keen to avoid trapping Khadambi in a biographical narrative. What's of more interest to her is finding a way to allow the house to inspire visitors to re create their own sense of utopia. This, of course, presents an interesting dilemma for the team, who know that most properties are visited because they hold the ghosts of former inhabitants or are the site of significant events.

Ruth explained that in discussion groups men, in particular, had expressed how moving they found a visit to the house and occasionally had even broken down when trying to explain the effect that the rooms had on them. She wondered why?

'Well,' said Susie 'Khadambi didn't have a cliched bone in his body.'

And perhaps that's the key. The sight of these rooms remind us that we often settle for spaces that compromise our own sense of desire and artistry. They throw down a challenge to us to try and live as we would wish.

Onwards to the National to see Katie Mitchell's fast paced and clever production of Beauty and the Beast in the Cottesloe with Eleanor.

There was much to enjoy particularly a simple, but beautifully executed, shadow puppet sequence and a brilliantly designed tormented beast, a crazy mix of rat, wolf and tyrannosaurus Rex. Overall though the piece didn't seem to trust the story's innate sentimentality and kept interrupting itself with an entertaining, but overplayed, music hall fore curtain where a naughty fairy MC introduced us to mind reading machines and insect orchestras. To begin with this Victorian cruelty and menace excited and provoked the audience, providing a welcome and playful subversion to a more conventional rendering of the tale; but ultimately it undermined the wonder and enchantment of the ending. A salutary lesson into the childishness of love rather than a celebration of its miracle? It left the audience impressed rather than awestruck.

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