Harriet Braine: Total Eclipse of the Art

Thu 3rd – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Adele Cooke

at 14:32 on 23rd Aug 2017

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As suggested by the punny, this show sees Harriet Braine narrate a brief history of art using music and comedy. Braine is not new to the scene. Having won the ‘Funny Women Award’, she was chosen as ‘Musical Comedy Awards Best Newcomer’ and was a finalist in ‘So You Think You’re Funny?’. Her enthusiasm translates well on stage, as her personality and passion speak for themselves.

Adopting a non-linear approach to the history of art, Braine bounces between her favourite artists, from Monet to Manet, Bauhaus to Bosch. This was effective, as she was not preoccupied with one era or area, but instead also incorporated the likes of Hokusai, Picasso and Da Vinci. Braine interspersed witty descriptions of the artists and their works with satirical songs to the tunes of modern tracks. Favourites included facts about Tracey Emin to the tune of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse’, or Matisse set to Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’, repeating the hook “you cut stuff up then stuck them down”. This was well researched and rehearsed, with comic success.

My prime criticisms pertain to Braine’s performance, as she seemed to lose energy as the set progressed. Admittedly it was 1:15pm on a Tuesday afternoon when the set began so energy levels were not exactly running high. Braine also assured me this was her twentieth show this Fringe, and is not representative of the performances she was giving at the beginning of the run. Despite this lack of energy her enthusiasm for the content was clear, and her History of Art degree is evidently being put to good use. Although, at times the show was potentially too clever for its own good, as she made references that were lost on her audience, pausing for audience participation that was highly hesitant. However, from an audience of only fifteen without the subject knowledge necessary this could hardly be expected. Periodically the show also revealed its low budget, as Baines used cardboard images of the paintings she was referencing to accompany her songs. Instead, a whiteboard and projector may have been a more effective, if more expensive, set up to use.

Overall this was a show that will give art buffs a good giggle, but feels tired after a long run at the Fringe. Braine is evidently a talented comedian who maybe just needs a nap and a Lemsip to get back on form.

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Jacob Pagano

at 14:59 on 23rd Aug 2017

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In 'Harriet Braine: Total Eclipse of the Art', singer-sonwriter Harriet Braine addresses her audience as students, and offers us a number of art-history lessons, using paintings by Picasso, Matisse, and Katsushika Hokusai as starting points. Her songs are in the style of satirical folk, and re-write, for example, the lyrics Edith Piaf’s music into the form of a playful art history lesson. In her bit on Matisse, she holds up one of his blue cut-outs, and sings, “Matisse, you cut things up and put them down, and sometimes blue and sometimes pink. And it’s all I can do from smiling when I see your nudes, Matisse.” Here, as in much of her work, Braine seeks to disenchant the aura around the great aritsts, humanizing them through describing their work in layman’s terms or illuminating their process.

Braine’s style is perhaps most identifiable with the New Zealand-based comedy duo Flight of the Concordes, or the Australian-based Courtney Barnett, whose songs (“Avant-Gardener” and “History Eraser”) have a similar feel of satirical and joyfully banal storytelling. The style has many potentials—it resembles a narrated camp-fire story-- and Braine reimagines it skillfully, both with her strong vocals and her creation of art-history lessons.

For me, however, the performance suffered because Braine’s art history lessons often move away from being playfully informative and become rather crass. Her bit on Katsushika Hokusai’s “The Wave” had insufficient narrative to teach us anything genuine about the painting, and Braine often slipped into a mocking tone, asking “Is it even gorgeous?” Surely we do not live in an age of reverence, but I couldn’t help but feel that these were low, and unproductive, blows. Insulting one’s muses does not bode well.

Moreover, Braine often bemoaned the male-dominated art canon. This is surely something to bemoan, but it is at also her disposal to teach us about Georgia O’Keefe, or Mary Cassat, or Frida Kahlo, or one of the countless great female artists.

Braine has set herself up a difficult task: she seeks both to inpart knowledge while generating laughter. Surely she can do both, but first she must dig deeper into the lives of the artists from whom she is receiving inspiration. Then, her already comic narratives would not only make us laugh, but give us something to remember.

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