REVIEW The Painter at Arcola Theatre, Dalston

Mehmet Ergen directs the world premiere of Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s play to open new theatre

For a play about an artist, the opening performance at the new Arcola Theatre is suitably eye-catching. The raw brickwork, wooden floorboards and glowing candles of the part-converted playhouse set the perfect scene for a glimpse into the life of British romantic Joseph Mallord William Turner.

Mehmet Ergen directs the world premiere of Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s The Painter to launch Arcola Theatre in Ashwin Street, opposite Dalston Junction Overground station, after 10 years in Arcola Street.

The dilapidated council building has been left to illegal ravers in recent years but was once Reeves Colourworks factory, manufacturing paints for Constable and, of course, Turner.

Arcola’s basic but beautiful stage, designed by Ben Stones and lit by Emma Chapman, looks like an artwork in itself. Paint mixing equipment and stewn canvasses add detail and fascination. And the fantastic Toby Jones fits in flawlessly as the detached dreamer Turner – one minute an obsessive, turbulent drunk then a beaten-down little boy.

The Painter primarily focuses on the women around the artist who pull him this way and that. His crazed mother Mary, played harrowingly by Amanda Boxer, weighs on his mind while Jenny, a foul-mouthed and feisty prostitute played by the authoritative if slightly shouting Denise Gough, drags him momentarily back down to earth. His super fertile secret mistress Sarah Danby, played by Niamh Cussack, ensnares him with girly smiles and swirling skirts. But Turner, all the while, is in a different world – one which we barely get a glance of.

The play paints a pretty picture but underneath the surface are too many unanswered questions. We hear too little about his art, the landscapes he loved as well as the women, and the lives of those around him. But The Painter forms a brilliant basecoat for Arcola Theatre to build on.

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The Painter runs until February 12. Tickets cost �17 or �11 for concessions and are available from the box office or by going to

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