“To yearn for something – doesn’t that make life more intense?”
The tangled personal lives of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and those that inspired them have been much explored by art historians and television makers alike (amongst many) and so Jeremy Green’s play – Lizzie Siddal at the Arcola – enters a crowded marketplace and doesn’t quite manage to make enough of a name for itself to stand out. Lotte Wakeham’s production is perfectly watchable, boasting a strong central performance from Emma West as ‘the muse that could’, but never really reaches beyond the world of biopic.
Siddal was a young woman who found herself at the centre of a vibrant art movement in the form of the Pre-Raphaelites – inspiring many, posing as models for some (Millais’ Ophelia for one) and also harbouring her own ambitions of becoming an artist. The play looks at how her relationship with Dante Gabriel Rossetti hampered her, along with the difficulties in negotiating the attentions of her powerful patron John Ruskin and the ill health that plagued her life, resulting in an addiction to laudanum that proved disastrous.
But aside from trotting through these biographical details, Green never really delves deep into the psychology of Siddal or even the driving artistic impulses of the movement – much time is spent instead on banal exposition and an unevenness of tone which undermines the more affecting moments within the writing. West is striking and supported well by Tom Bateman’s foppishly charismatic Rossetti and a multi-role-playing Daniel Crossley, but I never really felt like the play was adding anything new to our knowledge of Siddal.