Demi-Monde: The half-world of William Morris.
Devised by Love&Madness in collaboration with Associate Artist Jack Shepherd during the season at Hammersmith, focusing on local socialist and designer, William Morris.
Demi-Monde: The Half World of William Morris illuminates the politics and art of the 19th century designer and socialist. Director Matthew Sim introduces his audience to Morris' influences, his political dialogue and the universal dilemmas of social change with clarity and clout that makes for an engaging, expressive production. Much of this is down to Shepherd's script which waxes philosophical and questions different viewpoints on social structure through discerning, amusing characters from many levels of society.
Besides the script, Sim's success is also down to his ability to induce Shepherd's own reverence for an artist who, though clearly flawed, stood out during his time. Sim does this by creating a shared responsibility for the production amongst the cast and crew. Perhaps drawing on Morris' ideas on the time and effort put into art being as important as the result itself, he has created a complex production that flows with a cleverly varied pace; covering the driving forces in Morris' life from the early days of his marriage at the age of 25 to his death.
We meet poet, artist and charmer Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Jonathan Warde) and Morris' design partner Edward Burne-Jones (Carl Prekopp). Both show us how not to do relationships, simultaneously propping up and shooting down their beloved comrade, coveting his wife and spurring on his politics.
The cast play multiple characters, from Morris' stoic, loving wife Jane (Candida Benson) to the insightful punters who remind Morris he's part of the bourgeoisie he despises. Carl Prekopp is outstanding in his many roles and makes me sorely regret missing him in Richard III. As each new influence floats into Morris' life, they address the audience and introduce themselves shattering any obscurity, and though mostly rat-arsed, they are bewitchingly eloquent.
But by drawing a distinction between expression and emotion, Demi Monde lacked the latter: we feel little for the characters. The actors are immersed but the audience is not drawn into their emotions, so when Rossetti hallucinates and Jane (taking her place in the 'ménage') must deal with his madness, it's difficult to sympathise. If what Sim and Shepherd sought to do was explain methods of political revolution and explore parallels of anarchy and unity, they've achieved just that. It seems we're not required to relate to a set of timeless characters; there are too many of them for us to get to know.
As well as providing an abridged biography, Demi Monde highlights the contrasting events that were taking place within the paranoid world of the burgeoning anarchists in 1880s Soho. The urgency in their cry for change, their notion of creating one hell of an omelette by forcefully breaking countless eggs, is a political parallel that resonates today. Demi-Monde is highly recommended for a night of engaging theatre. " - Spoonfed.
" Mix Dickensian tones with a touch of Sherlock Holmes and you conjure up the wonderful world of Demi Monde , one of three plays currently running at the Riverside Studios as part of LOVE&MADNESS' desire and destruction season.
Demi Monde tells the tale of arts and crafts movement designer William Morris and how politics slowly acts as a distraction to his patterns, painting and poetry and ultimately ends up consuming him.
Apart from being a master craftsman, Morris has a desire to run his business as an organisation in which everyone has an input. He also wants people to realise that art can be beautiful and useful, a notion alien to his colleagues and friends who believe that art can only be one or the other.
Morris despises the capitalist system, which in itself is somewhat of a contradiction as his business benefits from and contributes directly to the system he so despises. Having his own strong views on how society should be run, Morris sets up a splinter socialist party, The Socialist League, but anarchists fester within and soon they outweigh the original party members. This wasn't what Morris had in mind.
Aside from problem politics, Morris' somewhat sorry life is also depicted. A workaholic, he is oblivious at first to his wife's affair with Rossetti, who flirts with the 'little water lillie' whilst Morris is busy with a woodcut. Morris doesn't seem to mind greatly, coming over as a man who struggles with people and relationships. Early in the piece he states he can't do human forms, but can do design and poetry. This becomes a metaphor for his life.
Metaphors and similes feature heavily in the show. They add a Morrissean poetic nature to the play which is most enjoyable. One character's emotion is likened to a pressed flower, beautiful but dead, and when contemplating how best to overthrow the capitalist system another states that you can't make an omelette without breaking an egg. Morris is described as having the frame, but not the constitution, of an ox and such well thought out allusions mean the audience know exactly what is being implied in beautiful poetic form.
Rosetti is gloriously acted by Jonathan Warde. Intoxicated most of the time, Warde excels at playing the complex drunk and there is most definitely something of Leonard Rossiter's Rigsby about him. Warde also shows his acting talent in many other roles, as do the rest of the cast, effortlessly slipping into new characters by adopting accents and gestures. The quick and simple transformations are a real lesson in acting.
This is a beautifully crafted piece of theatre that keeps the imagination alive. Demi-Monde doesn't need an extensive set; the few props and scenary evoke setting perfectly, completemented by Paul Green and Josh Pharo's exquisite lighting design.
2010 marks a decade of LOVE&MADNESS' work. Over the past ten years they have accomplished a tremendous amount with numerous tours and productions and their latest show at the Riverside Studios does not disappoint. Here's to the next decade of their work! Long may it continue. " - British Theatre Guide.