Theatre Review: Bacon | Conversations with Van Gogh | Art Heist

The Venice Biennale, the high water mark of contemporary art, gave its top prize this year to an opera staged on an artificial beach. Art shows these days frequently open with performance. Time for theatre to return the favour, and play to the hordes that head for the Tate Modern?

Francis Bacon's muse reignites his work at a terrible price. Picture: EIF

Bacon, theSpace, Edinburgh ***

Conversations with Van Gogh, ZOO Southside, Edinburgh **

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Art Heist, Underbelly, Cowgate, Edinburgh ****

Art Heist is a cleverly choreographed comic crime caper. Picture: EIF

BBC art correspondent Will Gompertz turns up later in the festival with a reprise of Double Art History, his rapid-fire survey of art-isms. My old acquaintance Walter Michael DeForest has been doggedly ploughing the furrow in his small free show Van Gogh Find Yourself. But the Fringe seems a little short in the art department.

Bacon is art history, Jim, but not as you know it, and certainly not how you learned it in school. The painter Francis Bacon is camp, posh and cynically seductive, not a spot of paint on his crisp blue sweater and slacks. He’s in rough love with George Dyer, high cheek-boned and handsome, but with voice and manner of a Cockney cabbie.

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The art on the back wall is the oddest thing in it: a sort of strange distracting swirly tulip with no place in Bacon’s oeuvre. The show could use better staging in a better venue, but well-honed writing made a thoroughly engrossing and even educational hour.

The art in Conversations with Van Gogh is a startling highlight, and involves broccoli. There’s a Van Gogh quote for every single event in life, Hannah Aine-Smith tells us, and his language is beautiful to listen to.

It’s herself Smith exposes in the empty frames, her profile like a Dutch portrait, a girlish woman who forgets her lines as she forgets her restaurant orders. This piece

has got clever ideas – the frames on the floor, the conversations with their inhabitants. It just needs pushing through with confidence. There was a criminal amount of noise, beats and crashes from other stages for this one-woman show; if Zoo venues wasn’t upfront on it, they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Serena Yagoub, as the springy black-clad cat burglar with an Mission Impossible style, a professional thief who doesn’t know a painting from a print, lights up the piece with star power. But Will Spence is wonderfully earthy as the bearded, bespectabled art heist afficionado, a little too handy with a hammer.

Rosa Garland (the characters all use their real first names) is a delightfully insecure robber, and distracted by her passion for painting, and by a winsome, preoccupied guard, Alice Boyd, who’d rather be practising trumpet. It’s Boyd in that last role, and also as stage controller, and skilful audience engager, who quietly threatens to steal the show, with an unassuming tour-de-force.

Poltergeist, the company behind Art Heist, brought Lights Over Tesco Car Park in 2018 and earned an Underbelly & New Diorama Untapped Award to help bring Art Heist to Edinburgh.

The choreography and plotting of the piece were almost but not quite crisp enough, the white block set a tad unwieldy, the camera work and audience participation sparky. A bit like the characters, Art Heist was having too much fun in the gift shop to quite rob the vault. But hijinks nonetheless.

Bacon runs until 10 August, Conversations with Van Gogh and Art Heist until 25 August