Review: Modest at Northern Stage

Review: Modest at Northern Stage

Modest by Ellen Brammar – Northern Stage

13th June 2023

The scene is set for this performance with some lovely classical piano music and some of the performers on the stage a good ten minutes before the action start. I have said before, I do love a pre-show the actors interacted with the audience and warmed them up for what was to come. 

Modest tells the tale of Elizabeth ‘Mimi’ Thompson who stuns the art world with a painting called “Roll Call” which she submits for consideration to the Royal Academy of Arts. Elizabeth Thompson is not shy about her talent, in fact quite the opposite, but even she is stunned to learn that her extraordinary painting will be shown in the coveted Gallery Two, garnering much praise and admiration from all who see it and generally ruffling the sensitive male establishment of the Royal Academy fraternity. 

Her sister, Alice, herself an accomplished poet and feminist sees her sister’s success as an opportunity to further her desire to see women have a much stronger presence in the patriarchal society of Victorian England. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is far more interested in furthering her how career and fortune and to avoid upsetting the status quo. 

Elizabeth (Emer Dineen) is glamourous, sexy, and alluring as the arrogant but talented artist and portrays her role as the cocky temptress tempered with the love and begrudging admiration for her sister, Alice (Fizz Sinclair) who is equally feisty but very much in the shadow of her more famous sibling

All of the actors play multiple roles admirably but I have to give a special mention again to Sinclair who morphs from the head-strong and principled sister to the sycophantic and obnoxious ‘Ra Two’ with effortless ease and some very comical moments involving dual costumes. LJ Parkinson also works wonders transitioning between the roles of ‘Ra One’ and Mary – a fellow artist and friend of Elizabeth. 

The cast is completed by Isabel Adomakoh Young, Jacqui Bardelang and Libra Teejay who play all the remaining characters in this absorbing musical and thought-provokingproduction. Teejay plays a wonderfully camp and punk-esque Queen Victoria which has to be seen to be appreciated. 

The set (QianEr Jin) is another shower curtain (you will have to have read my review of Brief Encounter to understand what I am talking about) but this one was significantly smaller but equally effectively utilised. There were several clever theatrical devices used – but they are all signposted within the performance – which was warmly greeted by the audience. The music (Rachel Barnes) is all over the place but is curiously in-keeping at all times and the lighting (Jessie Addinall) and sound (Eliyana Evans) well balanced and effective. 

The script by Ellen Brammar is wordy but moves apace and offers a lot of moments which make the audience think about the challenges faced by women at the time and indeed now – the choices of genres of music also suggests that as was then – is pretty much still now. The direction by Luke Skilbeck and Paul Smith is very impressive as the characters interweave with each other with barely a pause in the action. The movement directed by Tamar and Jo Dance Company is also very slick and well-rehearsed. 

Modest is an entertaining study of an historical IT girl, missed opportunities in the face of established norms, and the power and effect that celebrity can have on even an individual who may admire someone famous.

There were only two performances of this fascinating production at Northern Stage, of which I saw the second, so if you get the chance to see it elsewhere then it is very much worth a look. 

– Stephen Stokoe

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