Good Day, Mr.Courbet adapted and directed by Peter Wilkins from Good Day Monsieur Courbet - The Letters of Gustave Courbet selected and translated by Petra ten-Doesschate-Chu. The Acting Company at the James O. Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia. Thursdays, December 11 and 18, 2003, 6pm; Sundays, December 14 and 21 2pm.
If you have to miss this well-worthwhile production, commissioned by the NGA to accompany its current major exhibition French Paintings from the Musee Fabre, Montpellier (November 7, 2003 - February 15, 2004) I'm sure it will be because there are only two more performances scheduled in a busy week leading up to Christmas. You will have noticed the whole season of 4 performances only by close reading of the NGA's summer program. There has not been the general publicity of this production which it deserves, both in its own right and as a very important part of the exhibition.
I and a few others in the know were there on Sunday and I was not surprised that well-known thoroughly professional actor Phil Roberts, as Mr.Courbet, fluffed some lines and took some time to establish his character. With so much research to do for so little reward and with a tiny audience in a quite large theatre, anyone would find the task somewhat confidence-shaking. Gustave Courbet is a major-scale character to more than match his paintings. Roberts has the measure of the man, but it would be good to see the performances continue throughout the run of the exhibition.
Peter Wilkins has built a well justified reputation with his previous productions of the letters of Arthur Streeton and Claude Monet, but this show has the additional quality of placing Courbet in the political history of France. The radical painter who broke down the old Academy rules was also the fighter for democracy. Though jailed and dying a man broken by successive governments, Courbet, forgotten in standard histories, left the twin legacies of realism which became the now so popular impressionism, and the demand for freedom and democracy which we now take for granted. More than a peek into the artist's personality, Good Day Mr. Courbet shows us, as Courbet himself wrote, "not only a painter, but a human being".
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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