Arts Review: The Last of the Red Wine – ICA 13/02/11

The cast of “Last of the Red Wine”. Bless ’em.

To my mind, this scroll has a Reithian remit, to not only inform and entertain you, but to educate also. Consequently you’re getting this arts review. You’re welcome.

The Last of the Red Wine was part of the Institute for Contemporary Arts programme of “live weekends”, thought skewering work mediated via performance, talks and interactive events. I was there to see something original – an improvised situation comedy about the art world, which the company, including ejaculating anarchist Kim Noble, had workshopped from nothing in previous live sessions throughout the week. This was to be the recording of two episodes, the omnibus edition, which would later go out on radio.

On entry to the ICA I was approached by one of their staff, all of whom are ironic, who’d done a sterling job of bringing vagrant chic to an educated middle class audience. Noting my attire he motioned for me to step aside and handed out the requisite dress for my visit. I was given a beret, a dark polyester scarf, twice wrapped around my neck and hung at the front, and the choice of a chestnut pilot’s jacket or long black cashmere overcoat. I chose the latter. He then gave me a pair of glasses with much thicker black frames than my own. The prescription was perfect. I don’t know how they know this stuff.

Properly dressed I was permitted to pass through to the theatre bar. I was told that I’d be joining a live, experimental installation called ‘audience’ and that I should act naturally in accordance with the artist’s instructions. Said creative would be mingling amongst us; with us but not of us.

‘Are you alone?’ asked a woman, upon my arrival at the bar, introducing herself as Feminoid. She was policing the jars of sweets, each individual chew priced at £3. I nodded. I was then told that I wasn’t allowed to sit alone, prior to the performance. I’d have to be partnered with a fellow patron to discuss art or the application of technology in art. Did I want a male or female? Instinctively I went for the fem.

Feminoid seeped into the crowd, returning a moment later with my chat-buddy. She was, at a guess, in her late thirties, early forties. She had short, masculine hair, dyed blonde, a tidal wave quiff – the full Tintin, but with plenty of black roots allowed to grow out, a deliberate style choice. The glasses were a fine pair of Moorfields’ specials. Her clothes exuded intelligence. Baggy World War One Field Marshall’s trousers, a green tweed waistcoat and matching checked suit jacket – the kind you might wear for shooting on the estate, with a lime cravat completing the look and this description of it.

We spoke for about ten minutes before the show. I was impressed by her ability to concentrate on my thoughts regarding the installation in the adjoining gallery while reading with one hand. Occasionally she’d interrupt to articulate a thought on a passage she’d just read. I understood that the need to get it out as lightning struck, giving the insight form and shape, while developing it with an audience, was important, and consequently I never interrupted. Finally we got the call for the show. A worm of the discerning promptly formed, two by two, like the boarding queue for a highbrow Noah’s Ark.

On entry to the theatre we saw the company, arranged in a semi-circle around four microphones. Kim Noble was housed in an ICA wheelchair, the weight of expectation having done terrible things to his ankles. As I turned the corner to face the seats, I was struck by the line of full to half full wine glasses arranged on a nearby table. Good of the ICA to lay on drinks at a free event, I thought, and imagining it would be rude not to, I helped myself to a sip from the nearest Ridel. This was later the source of some embarrassment. The glasses were there to be played, the instrumentation of choice for the sitcom’s theme tune. The lady who dipped her finger into the one I’d plucked and later replaced a quarter full, rimming it sensuously, was visibly agitated at dropping a note. Few in the audience seemed to notice.

The warm up was mercifully brief. There was a short introduction from a woman who’d come as a retro raspberry and vanilla boiled sweet, in which she explained that the show was about “challenging clichés” as well as “inventing new ones”. I was grateful for that. Now I was well placed to enjoy the evening.

The warm up man, who disappointingly dropped the time honoured strategy of picking a member of the audience and ridiculing their background and profession, possibly because a third of the crowd were known to him, instead taught us how to laugh and later, once we had a signature sound – mine was a spluttering car engine cut with a cough, we did clapping. I chose to clap from below, because I understood that doing so gave the palm collision additional depth and majesty.

The recording was two half hours with an interval. The first half suffered from being a little too much like a student revue. It was a little awkward, over earnest perhaps. There was sub-python surrealism and few chuckles.

Bedwyr Williams was a “muse-agent”, bellowing out his narration with a faux earnestness that got a few chortling. Noble had a role suited to his muted performance art, playing a character with another girl’s name, who was one remove from his part at all times, describing his movements as a series of third person observations. He appeared later, playing a shelf (in a silent role) and his other contribution to the episode was just a series of grunts and other assorted noises. Strangely, this was the best of episode one.

The audience returned with renewed vigour, following the interval – everyone, including me, having had the opportunity to marinate their minds in expensive booze. I spent a whopping £4.40 on a pint of Leffe Blonde, only to be told that the ICA didn’t appreciate thrift patrons. I subsequently spent another £3.20 on a bag of superior potato slices, fried in liquid gold, and begrudgingly paid to use the male toilets – 80 pence per quarter litre of urine.

With most of the crowd lubed, episode two felt much better. It was more coherent than part one, with better jokes, including the aforementioned Noble, whose sex scene as a professor who spoke through a computerised voice box, hit the spot. Sure, the troupe were a little pleased with themselves and there was a propensity to plug the gaps in the wit with swearing, which spewed from an educated mouth never fails to get a laugh, but this was inventive stuff – the kind of comedy that Radio 4 listeners would claim for their own, though not for much longer if the BBC Trust has its way.

Exiting into the rain, having returned my uniform and ordinary once more, I reflected that I hadn’t learnt much about the art world. The cast had trumpeted some absurd ideas, namely that pseudo-intellectual miscreants populated the sphere of free expression, over confident and educated beyond their cognitive reach. Were artists really pretentious dullards, as the show had implied? Were Gallerists talentless trust fund refugees? It seemed closer to science fiction than comedy.

Published in: on February 16, 2011 at 15:55  Leave a Comment  
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