Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Fiona Hardy as Ivan Aivazovsky tells the story of a sea voyage.

Storytelling on steroids

The new production by ExploreTheArch began this weekend. Erica Smith took a voyage to 19th century Russia to meet Armenian born painter, Ivan Aivazovsky.

Regulars to Archer Lodge in Charles Road have witnessed unique productions about  our patron saints, plus celebrations of forgotten authors like the English Edward Bulwer Lytton and the Russian Leonid Borodin, as well as offering a fresh view of Shakespeare and Charlotte Brontë.

Music and magical light projection are two of the elements that make ExploreTheArch shows unique.

A broken violin becomes a ship on a stormy sea – music and magical light projection are two of the elements that make ExploreTheArch shows unique.

‘The Man who Painted the Sea’ takes us back to Russia to discover the story of Ivan Aivazovsky – an Armenian painter born 200 years ago – it is his UNESCO anniversary this year. ExploreTheArch’s composer, Vladimir Miller describes Aivazovsky as an outstanding marine painter: “An elderly JMW Turner wrote a poem in Italian to him when he was still only 27, hailing him a genius.  Ivan Aivazovsky worked with unbelievable speed and vigour and travelled tirelessly with exhibitions in all the places you’d expect of a contemporary artist: Paris, Berlin, the States.” Us Brits may not be familiar with this artist’s name, but he was a Big Cheese in his time and is still fêted in eastern Europe for his remarkable marine paintings.

Like all ExploreTheArch performances, the evening involves moving around Archer Lodge. We begin outside, and then climb the staircase, past wallpaper made by Emma Harding from fragments of letters and memoirs of Aivazovsky’s grandson which recall his remarkable grandfather. Upstairs, we are ushered to sit on fleece covered stools whilst Gail Borrow puts Aivazovsky into context – a contemporary of Balzac and Shelley – and a personal friend of the writer Nicolai Gogol, with whom he played cards with relish.

Fiona Hardy (left), Juliet Beadle (centre) and Gail Borrow (right) tell Gogol's tale of the nose.

Fiona Hardy (left), Juliet Beadle (centre) and Gail Borrow (right) tell Gogol’s tale of the nose.

Aivazovsky is played by Fiona Hardy – bringing physical theatre to the role. She gently pastiches the artist who becomes a powerful and rather pompous man towards the end of his life. Like the wonderful paper and string props, humour is threaded through the performance. Artist Royston du Maurier Lebek not only provides some stunning stage sets, but has character roles through the evening – including a cameo as Aivazovsky’s beautiful scottish wife.

Music is provided by Vladimir Miller on various keyboards, including the innards of a grand piano. He is accompanied by the wonderful Björn Dahlberg on clarinet and accordian, Juliet Beadle on flute and Alice Beadle and Cai Jones from Hastings Youth Symphony Orchestra on violins.

For me, as always, the stars of the show are the simple yet elaborate string and paper contraptions which @PoorlyBeetle lovingly engineers. If you’ve seen an ExploreTheArch production, you will understand what I mean, yet each new production continues to surprise and delight. The constructivist horses which tumble from the sky was one of my favourites this time, as was the use of projected light.

The experiential narration gives an impression of Aivazovsky’s life – we float from story fragment to fragment – as if carried by the Black Sea. The final room that we enter is dominated by the grand piano… until projections, dancing on the mantelpiece and an irrigation system from on high are added to the mix!


The show ends in the garden (beautifully lit by a full moon in a cloudy sky on the night I attended). Here we find a herd of fabulous cattle painted by Royston du Maurier Lebek. An extraordinary way to end the tale of an extraordinary artist.

My photographs don’t do justice to this wonderful production. You have to experience experiential theatre for yourself. Your ticket money will not be wasted. Make sure you book in advance to guarantee a seat at this unique performance.

The production runs until Sunday 20 August. Tickets and information can be found on the website. Some tickets are available in Bobo Flowers, 45B London Road, St Leonards, price £12.00

Archer Lodge is in Charles Road, St Leonards-on-Sea  TN38 0QX
It is a 7–10 minute walk from St Leonards Warrior Square station.

For more about the production, read HOT’s preview. For the full catalogue of ExploreTheArch events reviewed by HOT, browse this list of articles.

Posted 18:35 Wednesday, Aug 9, 2017 In: Performance

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