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Franks’ portrait of Lucian Freud

10 August, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Henry Goodman portraying Lucian Freud

AS the mourners filed out of St Bride’s Church off Fleet Street, following the memorial service for David Astor, I spotted a lone figure – a small man in a shabby raincoat.

Walking beside him and eager to strike up a conversation, I asked the drollest of questions: “And what do you do?”

“I’m a painter,” he said, almost dismissively.

I don’t know why but I assumed, foolishly, that he meant a house painter. I was clearly having a bad day.

But before I could roll on the conversation the coaches were filling up for a reception at the Reform Club and he disappeared in the crowd.

Later, I learned he was the great – and very fashionable – painter Lucian Freud.

Was he playing tricks with me?

I thought about our chance meeting after being blown away by a magnificent tour-de-force by Henry Goodman of a portrayal of Lucian Freud in a one-hander at the Peter Ustinov theatre in Bath on Saturday.

Lucian Freud and, right, Alan Franks

Almost absurdly, there’s a strange physical likeness about all three participants in this drama – the playwright Alan Franks looks like Lucian Freud as does Henry Goodman.

Here I should declare a bit of an interest in the production in that I have known Alan Franks years before he became a columnist on The Times when he was a fledgling reporter on a west London local weekly, and he and I found ourselves on picket lines during strikes called by the National Union of Journalists.

So, I suppose that was what drew me to Bath on Saturday as well as a developing fascination with the art of portrait are following a masterclass at the Hampstead School of Art by Valerie Wiffen.

What drew Alan Franks to write this little masterpiece?

He told me he used to see Lucian Freud quite a lot in the streets of Notting Hill though he never talked to him as a local reporter, and was fascinated – who wasn’t? – by his mercurial life­style, his numerous women, his numerous children, 14, and his on-off friendship with Francis Bacon and his enduring friendship with Frank Auerbach. But he waited until Freud had died and friends were more ready to talk about him.

‘Big Sue’ – Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping

Both Frank Auerbach and Francis Bacon drop in and out of Henry Goodman’s monologue as well as reminiscences about some of his “women”, and then there are memories of the famous time the Queen sat for him –

“We are each other’s subject” he quipped – and, of course, the painting of the benefits supervisor, “Big Sue” which sold for £35million, even faint snapshots of Hitler, whom he met as a child, and of his famous grandfather.

Alan Franks – who has had several hits on the stage, perhaps the biggest with Prunella Scales in Mother Tongue – revealed the tricks of his trade. He said it was a bit like writing a feature article, and he wrote 12-13,000 words of the play in a few days. Sounds easy. But he didn’t set out to do a documentary and, like a portraitist, there was a lot of the whimsical and sharply observant Alan Franks in his portrayal of Lucian Freud.

Goodman scaled heights – funny, sharply switching moods to a raised voice of annoyance when necessary, rolling his eyes, and conversing with his sitter whom you never see, a beautiful part, in its own way for a woman! There was a lovely moment when while talking about “Big Sue” he compared her cascading flesh to the undulating folds of a bedspread which he smoothed as he sat on a bed.

Henry Goodman doesn’t play the part by accident: Alan Franks had him in mind the moment he conceived the idea. And when he read a feature on him in The Stage magazine he looked up the printed details about his agent and Henry Goodman was bagged. But how could Henry Goodman turn down such a luscious part?

It’s a wonderful vehicle for his great talents.

The play, Looking At Lucian, runs for 85 minutes, every moment gripping, until September 2 at the Theatre Royal, Bath. And I hope it gets a run in London – at the Arts Theatre or Royal Court perhaps?

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