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Helen and Robert – a play – Scene 2

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Act 1: Scene 2: An artist’s studio in London – in which we meet Francesca and Frankie. Francesca is painting a representation of Frankie. Francesca is standing at the easel. Frankie is seated on a rather bashed-up leather chair. The scene opens to the incessant beat of hard core techno music. Then the music stops and Francesca pauses at her easel. She speaks to Frankie.

Francesca: Sometimes Dad gets it about right. I didn’t think he’d bring this music back from Berlin. Hard Wax too! It gets me in the mood. I paint to the music. I guess the music is in the painting.
Frankie: How’s it progressing?
Francesca: It’s on track. Erm – I just need to wake this bit up a bit.

Francesca – in a staccato rhythm – stabs some acid-coloured paint onto the canvas.

Francesca: So that’ll do for a while. Let’s have a break. Patience, patience.
Frankie: You know, as I’ve been sitting here I’ve been wondering about art and your art and our times. And the music in your art too. I mean: What are our times? What’s going on?
Francesca: Things are marginally better if you’re female – compared with before.
Frankie: Marginally. Men still just divide into wankers or those who just want to suck your tits dry.
Francesca: Yes – and no. But mainly yes. There are a few more women in art now; at least some women are getting some recognition.
Frankie: I was watching this tv programme and it was on European art – you know the art of Italy and of France and Germany. The guy doing it told a good story. He didn’t look like the usual presenter type. He had a fat gut. And what he was really good at doing was relating the art to the psyche and the history and the politics of the country. I’ve been thinking a lot about this …
Francesca: Well, what have we got? Advertising and consumption and all the stuff that Orwell moaned about …
Frankie: How much of all that gets into your art?
Francesca: I don’t know. I don’t know how much is unconscious; I don’t quite know whether my art ever gets away from having to please some sort of audience. I heard someone the other day talking about theatre and he was saying that there is always a battle going on – a battle between the actors and the audience – and then he said that the actors must always win. So, I’m thinking about that in the work that I make. Nowadays, I like what Marlene Dumas said: ‘If you like an image then paint it’ – which is what I sort of do. It’s a relief just to get on with it. And then there’s the whole ‘you’ve got to get the artist to get the art.’ Which I suppose must be true.
Frankie: Yeah – but can we dredge up some of the UK culture and represent it? Can we see it – or some of it – in your art? I don’t even know if it makes sense to think about a UK culture. The Scots must resent being lumped in with the English. God, they must be pissed off. Anyways, I read that essay called ‘What’s so good about Peppa Pig?‘ It’s taking the culture question literally as well as critically. So, ‘What’s so good about the UK?
Francesca: Oh God. Well, at the moment I’d rather look at what isn’t good about the UK. The prospect of having to have visas and standing in queues in order to get into other European countries is really annoying. Who’s idea was that!? The amazing wealth divide. I mean, how is that possible? That can’t be right. The absolutely amazing low level chit chat on the TV. The levels of debt. The mania about house prices. It’s like the Polish woman who said – when she was interviewed about why she was here in the UK and what she thought about England – that there were quite a few good things but the people are shit. ‘I don’t think much of the people,’ she said. I mean that was pretty devastating.
Frankie: Yep: OK – what I cannot stand – I mean I really cannot stand it anymore – is the way we are told about ‘the will of the people’. There is no shared will of the people. What the f**k are they talking about? Orwell would go nuts.
Francesca: Cup of tea?
Frankie: (Nods as she consults her iPhone) Hey look. Petra Villiers has just sent us a text. She’ll be over here to the studio in half an hour. Good old Petra. The last time I saw her she told me that she knows what has gone wrong in the UK but she doesn’t know how to put it right. But I don’t know exactly what she thinks has gone wrong so perhaps she’ll tell us.
Francesca: And some of that is going to get into my painting. Actually, there is something very wrong with English art. It’s contrived and there’s loads of affectation and the worst thing is that it criticises the very society it feeds off. It’s like that english jerk who buys endless properties abroad, lives off them, swans about the place and then gripes about capitalism. He junks the very society he thrives on.
Frankie: Talking of being abroad I was on a flight back from Bologna and this guy was sitting next to me. And he must have been very nervous or else alcoholic because he ordered two of those little bottles of wine. He chatted away – he‘d developed a hatred for the police and so I heard all about that – and then he suddenly said: ‘Right, you’re about to be stranded on a desert island and you’ve got to grab a few things but you can take one book and one piece of music and one film with you. That’s all: So what would you take?’ I liked this question. So I thought about it and I first went through a number of books that came to mind, and then some songs – and so – quite quickly – I made my choice and I told him I would choose:
The Green Road’ by Anne Enright and then ‘Kool thing’ by Sonic Youth (or Emmylou’s Goin’ back to Harlan) and the film was obviously Varda’s superb – ‘Vagabond’ or her ‘Cleo from 5 to 7.

Frankie (who turns as if to address the audience): And what would you choose?

(To be continued.)

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