Reformation is an intriguing and often amusing play by James Martin Charlton, inspired by the work of Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach.
The choice of subject was an interesting one, as Cranach differs from most great artists portrayed in theatre and film. He is more Machiavelli and pragmatic than he is an idealist visionary. He negotiates his services, and his principles, to the highest bidder, gladly reducing the artistic value according to the whims of his privileged commissioners.
The exploration of class and male power runs through this work and is nicely judged. We see Cranach being revered as a celebrity by the everyday folk, yet he still bows and slightly cowers to his higher-ups. He is a man who knows his place, and how to navigate his position to its maximum value.
We see how the demands of the powerful men ripple down through the class system and leave their mark on all concerned. Cranach persuades his son’s lover Eva to model nude for his painting ‘The Rape of Lucrece’, commissioned by the Elector Joachim. When Joachim sees the painting, he lusts after Eva and demands Cranach deliver her to him. We see Cranach face the dilemma between his son’s happiness and the primal whims of his philandering commissioner.
Jason Wing brings gravitas and power to his portrayal of Cranach, in a subtly moving, and at times, vulnerable exploration of a complex and flawed man. Interestingly, his eyes never leave Eva’s (Alice De-Warrenne) during her nude scene, showing that Cranach did not objectify her like the other characters did, although still exploiting her in a different way.
The supporting cast deliver decent performances, and Simeon Willis brings a strange likeability and humour to the depraved Elector, who has most of the best lines.
I’d recommend Reformation as an interesting exploration of power with strong central performances, and some laugh-out-loud moments.
Reformation runs until 13th July at White Bear Theatre, Kennington.