Ruby Fischer

Arts Reporter

Read this first

Photo Book Review | Growing Up Travelling by Jamie Johnson


Copyright JamieJohnsonPhotography

American photographer Jamie Johnson specialises in documenting the lives of children across the globe, from the jungles of Laos to the streets of Kathmandu, her work investigates the many cultures of growing up around the world. For the last few years she has journeyed between Galway, Limerick, Cork and Tipperary, photographing the lives of Irish Traveller children, whose portraits come together in a wonderful collection published by Kehrer Verlag. The foreword by Mary M Burke helpfully places the images in context: a historically nomadic and non-literate minority, Travellers have lived on the fringes of Irish society for centuries, working trades and providing short-term labour to sustain a life on the move. Johnson was introduced to a group of Travellers at the Ballinasloe Horse Fair and Festival in County Galway where Travellers from Ireland and...

Continue reading →

Book Review | The Book of Newcastle Superb short stories from ‘The Toon'


THE AIM of Comma Press’s short-story series Reading the City is to convey the social, historical or political essence of a specific location and that’s certainly the case with The Book Of Newcastle.

Editors Zoe Turner and Angela Readman bring together 10 authors who offer unique vignettes of The Toon. Some are born-and-bred Geordies, others are outsiders who found their way in and fell for its charm.

The tales vary in voice, tone and texture. But they all feature characters whose lives are inextricably embedded within the landscape of the city, from the dusty lofts of the iconic Tyneside flats to the dew-soaked ryegrass on the town moor.

Julia Darling’s tragicomic Calling From Newcastle opens the collection with Gloria, an 18-stone call-centre agent who dreams up new lives for herself from inside her cubicle between roundabouts on the edge of a ring road. “I’m in the desert,” she...

Continue reading →

Film Review | Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema - Timely celebration of women’s global contribution to the art and craft of of film-making

Pic Women Make Film.jpg

WOMEN MAKE FILM is an episodic exploration of the craft of film-making following the cuts, pans, frames and tilts of some of history’s greatest films all directed by women. It’s been made by director and producer Mark Cousins, who enjoyed considerable success with his previous anthologies The Story of Film in 2011 and A Story of Children and Film a few years later.

Women Make Film’s 14-hour run time is broken up into 40 chapters, exploring more than 1,000 clips taken from 183 international films. It’s a marathon but it feels like a proportionate response to the old myth — recently taken up by Bafta’s Marc Samuelson — that there just aren’t many female film-makers out there.

In true road-movie tradition, the film explores the hinterlands while Tilda Swinton, Jane Fonda, Debra Winger, Adjoa Andoh, Kerry Fox, Thandie Newton and Sharmila Tagore take turns in playing teacher in this...

Continue reading →

Book Review | The Artfulness of Death in Africa by John Mack Revelatory exploration of funerary practice in sub-Saharan Africa

Africa death art.jpg

(Left to right) Power figure (nkisi), Kongo peoples (Loango, Republic of Congo),19th–20th century, wood with mirror, whose reflective surface suggests the dividing line between the realms of the living and the dead; Large, swathed female figure (niombo), Bwende-Dondo peoples (Republic of Congo, DRC), c1938. An early museum photograph of the object shows it originally had an additional small figure of a baby suckling on the right breast; Ceramic memorial head (nsode), Akan peoples (Ghana), c19th century and Crucifix, Kongo peoples (DRC or Angola), 16th–17th century, brass, its form reflecting a Kongo ideogram

A SPECIALIST in African arts and cultures, John Mack has written many books based on more than two decades of research, field work, exhibitions and publications.

Memory, miniaturisation and maritime culture are just a few of his preoccupations and his latest work looks closely at...

Continue reading →

Exhibition Review | Brilliance on borrowed time: Charlotte Salomon at the Jewish Museum London

RUBY FISCHER sees a potent exhibition of the enigmatic and troubling paintings produced by Charlotte Salomon before she was consigned to a Nazi death camp

097N019 F000432.jpg

AMID a blaze of red and orange brushstrokes, a lone, bare-footed figure sits before an open window, clutching her head in her hands.

One foot is stuck out against the gaping emptiness beyond the windowsill and a large paint board balances in her lap, its heft weighing her down, preventing her from flying through the window into the red wash.

Running down the centre of the canvas in vermilion capital letters are the words: “Lieber Gott, lass mich bloss nicht wahnsinnig werden” (“Dear God, only please don’t let me go mad.”)

“Nicht,” written in black, appears tacked into the sentence, completing the image like the final resolution of a mind in turmoil.

A self-reflexive portrait of the artist coming to terms with her grandmother’s...

Continue reading →

Theatre Review | Faith, Hope and Charity: Understated yet devastating account of life on the margins in the age of austerity

by Ruby Fischer
National Theatre

Review faith-hope-and-charity-image-by-sarah-lee.jpg

In tune with the times: Faith, Hope and Charity Photo: Sarah Lee

“I don’t want theatre to be comfortable,” writer and director Alexander Zeldin told the Morning Star last week. “I don’t want it to be consensual.” When the lights go up on his latest play, Faith, Hope and Charity, it’s with a stark, fluorescent flicker that transforms the Dorfman into a run-down community centre and food bank on the brink of closure. At its helm is Hazel (played by the brilliant Cecilia Noble), whose weekly patchwork meals struggle to fill the gaps left by a crumbling welfare state in the age of austerity. Nick Holder is full of heart as Mason, the affable ex-con turned volunteer choir-master, whose clumsy platitudes become an essential tonic for the people who find quiet respite beneath the centre’s leaky roof. There’s nothing consensual about the arrangement -...

Continue reading →

Theatre Review | My One True Friend: Complex realities of pre-independence Zimbabwe absent from nostalgic drama

By Ruby Fischer
Tristan Bates Theatre


“What of a dance?” Suzannah Hamilton and Mensah Bediako

RHODESIA, 1970. The waspish Lady L (Suzanna Hamilton) prepares for her upcoming birthday party in the baneful presence of her opportunistic offspring (Theo Bamber and Lucy Lowe), who have arrived to carve out their portions of their late father’s estate. On the other side of the estate, servant Kapenie (Mensah Bediako) receives his grandson George (Joseph Rowe)
and refuses his offer of a new life in Washington, citing simply: “Madam needs me.”

It’s an all-too-familiar structure steeped in romantic tropes about race and privilege in colonial Africa, where servitude is mistaken for loyalty and condescension for sentiment — the loyal black servant persists in his devotion to the cantankerous lady of the house who, in a sudden rush
of feeling, invites him to dance and offers him a portion of...

Continue reading →

Exhibition Review | Paula Rego: Boldness and Surrender

By Ruby Fischer
Milton Keynes Gallery


Salazar Vomiting The Homeland, 1960, Oil on canvas: courtesy of the artist and gallery

Dame Paula Rego is perhaps best known for her large-scale pastel paintings of doll-eyed women in puff-sleeve dresses acting out their dark, folkloric human dramas within the confines of a velvety boudoir or a musty drawing room. She’s known for her rich theatricality, but walking into the first room of Obedience and Defiance at the Milton Keynes Gallery feels like strolling into a fever dream. Gnarled figures and fleshy shapes writhe on their canvases amidst a cut-out chaos of collage and “violent things”. The opening piece, Salazar Vomiting the Homeland shows a blubbery António de Oliveira Salazar hunched over in a corner, a stream of vomit protruding from his mouth in a perfect coil, while a yellow vagina-fruit sporting one enormous hairy testicle and what...

Continue reading →

Interview | Lucy Jones: An Awkward Beauty

by Ruby Fischer


Lucy Jones, 1996, oil on canvas

FROM beneath a mop of shaggy dark hair, a pale figure emerges from a
purple canvas (above), with the green of her skin giving way to a hard gash of a mouth which splits the face in two like a lopsided horizon.

It’s an uncomfortable painting. The coarse, bold strokes lead you back to the penetrating gaze but something in the expression behind those slate-grey eyes holds you transfixed. Before long, you start to realise you’ve
probably been staring too long. That canvas, Lucy Jones 1996, is an early example of how this artist deals with being looked at. Born with the cerebral palsy which affects her speech and movement, Jones’s work is hard-won, but steers well clear of sentimentality. Bold, energetic lines vibrate beside thick planes of vibrant colour, forcing her likenesses to emerge from their flat, desolate backgrounds to return the...

Continue reading →

Theatre Review | Maly Theatre Three Sisters: Waiting for Moscow

By Ruby Fischer
The Vaudeville Theatre


Dreamers: Ekaterina Tarasova, Ksenia Rappoport and Irina Tychinina in Three Sisters Photo: Tristram Kenton

“In two or three hundred years, life will be unimaginably beautiful.”
It’s hard not to feel that Igor Chernevich’s bearded Vershinin has hit a nerve that sends a ripple of laughter through the seats at the Vaudeville. Far be it from us to disabuse him of his imagined utopia, a future bright with hot air balloons, superhuman senses and beautifully tailored coats. Humanity, he tells us, is destined for something astonishing. We just have to wait, and work. As for those of us alive today? “They’ll forget us. That is our fate.”

The allure of possibility haunts this finespun production by director Lev Dodin of the Maly Theatre, St Petersburg, which tells the story of the three Prosorov sisters, care-worn Olga (a brilliant Irina Tychinina)...

Continue reading →