October 28th, 2016

Shakespeare in Art review – Compton Verney

THERE’S more than a little bit of theatre about the new exhibition at Compton Verney.

Shakespeare in Art: Tempests, Tyrants and Tragedy is an inspired collaboration between the country house art gallery and the RSC to mark the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.

The exhibition, the idea of RSC’s artistic director Greg Doran, is far more than a simple series of Shakespeare-related pictures hung on a gallery wall.

The RSC’s long-time design director, Stephen Bimson Lewis, designed the exhibition, with the help of many technical whizzes from the company. By his own admission, designing an exhibition was a new experience for him, but he could soon find his services called on again on this evidence.

He brings elements of theatre into the gallery – from the ship decked flooring with the Tempest works, to a wall complete with chink accompanying the Dream section – together with multi-media and multi-sensory elements, to give the visitor a truly immersive experience.

Sound also plays an important role, from the sound of crashing waves to that of nature in the fairy Dream forest, while headphones offer the chance to hear performance poet Kate Tempest in full flow, and Rufus Hound, currently starring as Sancho Panza in Don Quixote in Stratford, reading “I know a place where wild thyme blooms” from the Dream. It’s all rather like being in a theatre.

The exhibition is arranged over eight ‘acts’ exploring various plays through art – The Tempest, Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and, slightly oddly some may think, Henry VIII. It features over 70 works – paintings, drawings, engravings, woodcuts and photos – borrowed from collections the length and breadth of the country, including the Tate, the V&A, and 11 from just down the road, courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Featured are works old and new, from Sargent and Fuseli, to photographer Tom Hunter’s contemporary re-imaginings and celebrated Shakespearean Antony Sher’s own portrayal of himself as Prospero.

The exhibition also focuses on John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery, created in 1789, and hailed as Britain’s first ever thematic public exhibition. Boydell commissioned prominent painters, sculptors and printmakers to produce their own interpretations of Shakespeare’s works. The exhibition includes a digital recreation of Boydell’s original gallery.

Other highlights include a series of fascinating photographs by David Farrell which capture some of Britain’s finest thespians on the doorstep. The behind the scenes shots were taken during Sir Peter Hall’s 1968 film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, shot entirely on location at Compton Verney. Those pictured include Judi Dench, Diana Rigg, Helen Mirren, Ian Holm and Ian Richardson. For many of the photos it is their first public showing.

And last but certainly not least is a stunning, and strangely serene, lifesize installation titled Ophelia’s Ghost by husband and wife artists Davy and Kristin McGuire. It is very easily to believe Ophelia is drowning in front of your very eyes. True theatre!

Visit www.comptonverney.org.uk for further details.