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The Comedy of Errors

All Schools Should Be Art Schools

15 January 15 words: Mark Patterson
NTU’s School of Art and Design celebrates their 170th anniversary with a specially commissioned performance at Nottingham Castle
All Schools Should Be Art Schools

 

Was a Masonic conspiracy really involved in the location of the Nottingham School of Art? This was one of the many playful ideas put out in this one-day only drama to mark the 170th anniversary of Nottingham Trent University’s School of Art & Design.

Commissioned by NTU, Nottingham playwright Michael Eaton has fashioned a narrative that is almost as much a social history of Nottingham as it is the story of changing ideas about the teaching of art. Building on Eaton’s typically thorough research, this was drama that was local in theme, character and place - right down to its location in the Castle’s Long Gallery which provided an aptly elegant salon backdrop to a story which touched on universal themes such as commerce versus art and tradition versus modernity.

The Long Gallery’s awkward dimensions were put to good use by director Martin Berry, as the play was staged in a promenade style which saw the audience pulled this way and that while the small professional cast and supporting students moved the action from end of the gallery to the other. The story, of course, began in 1843 when a national school of design was established to teach design skills to a mainly-female workforce in the flourishing lace industry. Arguments between leading men of the day (played by Stephen Godward and Joe Heap) soon followed about whether the lace workers would also benefit from learning drawing and landscape painting.  

With pure art winning the day over mere commerce, the School of Art came into its own and found a new home in the Waverley Building next to the Arboretum. One of its students was Laura Knight, whose rags-to-riches story and battle to paint nudes in a hidebound male-dominated environment was brought to life by Holly Lucas. Before this there was a strange episode involving a manic Yale professor (Harry Haylings) who read conspiracies into the Masonic parade to the Waverley Building.  Although foggy acoustics rendered most of the professor’s rant unintelligible, the same couldn’t be said for the many satirical musical numbers which gave the whole drama a jolly music hall air. One could hear Michael Eaton’s abiding interest in Victorian social customs and literature in these songs. As the story moved to the 1960s and concluded with the present day, the cast provided music affirming a belief in art and that ‘all schools should be art schools.’ It would be a shame, and surprising, if the drama wasn’t adapted in some way so the same message could be heard by audiences more widely in the future.

All Schools Should Be Art Schools was at Nottingham Castle on Tuesday 13 Jan 2015.

Nottingham Trent University's 170th Celebration website

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