Stiletto satire cuts thespians down to size

Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003) lived for 100 years. I bet as a kid he drew ma and pa with the same easy line. No one draws like this now – it’s like Paul Klee raised on Art Deco. His style suits the theatre; simple staging, grand curves that lead the eye in, matched with a line rich in variety, texture and pattern.

You see the costumes as much as the actual caricatures. If you are not careful you can miss it. ‘I hate him, he’s so perfect,’ a fellow cartoonist said to me. It’s easy to be bored by grace in these post-grunge, new satire days, where we’re accustomed to the meat cleaver approach to characterisation. But the Hirschfeld show is worth a trip and a measured step back from the pretty staging.

The drawings are not totally flattering. There’s a touch of East Coast cynicism and Broadway grit. It’s mostly in the faces: fixed grins, frank profiles, like masks hiding true intent. Glenda Jackson, in particular, looks like she’s slyly got the cream. Then there are those hands – elongated, reptilian, a little bit creepy. There’s far more going on here than in your regular actor/actress photo op promo. So go.

There are sketchbooks too – a bit like being backstage, they’re the two-dimensional equivalent of warm-ups in rehearsals. Missed cues. A good chance to learn how Hirschfeld makes it look so easy…Hirschfeld’s Brits on Broadway runs from 22 June to 30 October at the Theatre Museum, Russell Street, Covent Garden, London WC2. Tel: 020 7943 4700

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