Steve Furst on Canvas 2003

Note: This review is from 2003

Review by Steve Bennett

A fascinating idea, this. Steve Furst has taken a series of classic works of art, then imagines himself as characters in them, or who inspired them. It's highbrow stuff, and about as far from his camp showbiz icon Lenny Beige as you can get.

Now I don't know much about art-based character comedy sketch shows, but I know what I like. And unfortunately, something seems to have got lost between inspiration and execution here, with the show simply not as funny as it could have been.

Our guide is Dave "The Danger" Pike, a former stuntman reduced to minding an art gallery after a series of on-set mishaps and off-set breakdowns.

Like every character in the show, he's a well-crafted creation, full of nuances suggesting hidden faults the size of the San Andreas. In his fragile mental state, the pictures come alive, and he leads us through his interpretations, that you won't find in any textbook.

In Constable's Hay Wain, for example, he envisages himself the bumpkin in the cart. But he doesn't see a pastoral British landscape, but the getaway from a vicious break-in, with the artist acting as some sort of 19th-century CCTV camera.

Furst then adopts the persona of that character, and launches into a furious yokel tirade about the inequity of county life and the incompetence of his partners in crime. It's a passionate and funny outburst that none of the later characters can match up to.

We see an innkeeper whose absinthe-addicted wife was captured by Degas; a 16th century Flanders musician whose band was painted by Holbein; an Arles landlord who rented a room to Van Gough; a Parisian industrialist who fired his slacking workers after Seurat caught them bathing and an Egyptian brothel-keeper who had a run-in with Picasso. Not to mention an effete anorak of a character who claims he inspired all of Dali's output.

Each and every one of them is beautifully realised, with Furst effortlessly transforming himself with the aid of a wig and, occasionally, a moustache.

But they just don't have enough funny lines to say, so the comic momentum slowly saps away as the ideas run out before the stories do. This wasn't helped on this particular night, either, by a moron of a heckler who insisted on giving his own, witless, interpretations of the paintings. A real annoyance, but Furst mistakenly indulged him.

With the whole rich variety of the art world to choose from, we could have expected some more interesting characters, with more interesting tales to tell. Furst's skill in bringing such people to life ensures this isn't dull, but neither does it leap off the canvas and grab you.

Review date: 1 Jan 2003
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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