“We’re talking about partnership, not charity”
The issue of sponsorship in the arts is one which is fraught with difficulties in a seemingly unwinnable quandary no matter how big or small – the RSC were hauled over the coals for accepting money from BP in light of their environmental disasters in 2012, Look Left Look Right were castigated by this reviewer for establishing commercial relationships, yet neither scenario really addresses the desperate reality of shrinking revenue streams and funding avenues.
Nor too does this double bill of Doug Lucie plays, the oft-neglected British playwright focusing on what effect commercialisation has on the art itself. First up is a fierce two-hander in 1990’s Doing the Business where a new artistic director of a forward-thinking theatre has a meeting with an old Oxbridge buddy who is now an archetypal yuppie and grant-giver extraordinaire. The problem is the strings that come with the money which are tantamount to complete artistic control.
There’s not much subtlety here but then that isn’t Lucie’s intent. Matthew Carter’s Peter is a brash businessman who is the very embodiment of commercialism, more than happy to fund an entire season as long as it is filled with populist work and any cutting edges – like a playwright who dares not to demonise the IRA – are sanded away. Carter revels in his red-socks and braces appallingness and Jim Mannering counters him well as the increasingly less keen director.
Blind is a more recent work, originally a radio play from 2002 and edited by Lucie in 2014 for this stage premiere, and is located in the high end of the art world, dominated by the sly demeanour of the Saatchi-like Paul Stone. He’s been touting the raucous talents of his Emin-like YBA Maddy Burns, a blisteringly bold performance from Janna Fox, but his fickle tastes – and those of the functionaries who follow him blindly – are tempted by the prospect of hot new painter Alan.
The insights into patronage and the relationship between artist and patron are interestingly drawn here with an often biting sense of humour and seductive charisma – Daniel York’s avaricious Stone proving irrestible to Cameron Harle’s all-too-appealing Alan, who in turn has Maddy hanging off his every word and his old patron who can’t stop hanging around. But Lucie rarely digs too deep here, a glancing hit and run on the art world with little enduring impact.