'What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor' is a short film by writer/director and founder of Wet Paint Theatre Company Chris Ward. Chris, described by Time Out as ‘one of the leading revolutionary playwrights of the punk generation’, is known for bringing together professionally trained actors, musicians and non-professional artistes under the umbrella of Wet Paint Theatre Company. He has collaborated with filmmakers such as Mark Reichert and Derek Jarman and his play ‘Love’s a Revolution’, was the basis for the 1999 Julien Temple film Vigo. Formed initially to reach a non theatre going audience and to defy ‘theatre elitism’, Wet Paint Theatre Company first took performances to the stage as support for bands such as Bauhaus and the UK Subs in the early 80’s. Chris’s obvious love for the free thinking, free spirited individuals and those who stick two fingers up at convention remains evident in his latest work 'What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor'. Based on the life of artist, writer and model Nina Hamnett, the film stars Siobhan Fahey, Clive Arrindell, Donny Tourette and Honey Bane.
Remembered as the ‘Queen of Bohemia’ Nina Hamnett was born in Tenby, Wales in 1890. She studied at The London School of Art from 1907 until 1910. In 1914 she went to Paris to study at Marie Vassilieff’s Academy. There she met her husband, the Norwegian artist Roald Kristian. Nina was however openly bisexual and sexually promiscuous, including Brzeska, Modigliani and Roger Fry amongst her lovers. Her reputation soon spread to London where she returned to work for a time on textiles at The Omega Workshop, directed by members of The Bloomsbury Group. Her work was widely exhibited during World War 1 in London and Paris and she also taught at The Westminster Technical Institute from 1917 to 1918. Following her divorce she had a love affair with the composer E J Moeran. Her heavy drinking saw alcoholism increasingly replace much of her creativity and she was profoundly affected by a case bought against her for libel by the occultist Alistair Crowley following the publishing of ‘Laughing Torso’ in 1932, an insight into her anarchic lifestyle. A frequent visitor to The Fitzroy Tavern in Fitzrovia Nina was at home in London’s Bohemian bustle, trading anecdotes for drinks. Her colourful life, crossing paths with so many creative forces of the period, including Picasso, ended tragically in 1956 following complications arising from a fall from her window which left her impaled on the railings below. There is still debate as to whether this was a drunken accident or an attempted suicide.
Taking its name from her love of sea chanteys What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor offers a rich slice of Nina’s life or in Chris’s own words “an episode”. Although only a snapshot the film is bursting with vibrancy from beginning to end. This vibrancy is reflected in every aspect of the film, characters, colour, light, costume, sound and period setting. Chris has really captured the bohemia of the time on every level. Siobhan Fahey plays a ‘devil may care’ Nina yet also conveys a melancholy that brings a believable realism to the self destruction at the heart of this woman’s existence. Chris explains that he was drawn to the character as she is ‘timeless’ in that she could be found today, grabbing attention, telling stories and holding an audience in a London club. Chris manages to introduce many of the characters associated with Nina without it becoming a mere procession. Clive Arrindell is a rather sarcastic Crowley while Donny Tourette brings to life the unkempt drunken sailor in playful banter. Honey Bane brings a leg first twist as the ‘Cat Lady’, a long term lover of Nina’s. It was interesting that Chris chose to focus on an unknown lover throughout the piece rather than one of the more famous figures associated with Nina. This suggested a loneliness and a void in a life that was generally recognized as flamboyant and that of a social butterfly. The film left me with many questions about Nina and I certainly wanted to find out more and to look up her own work along with her portraits. For me Chris really opened a window into her life with depth and sensitivity illustrating not only Nina’s capacity for self destruction, but also her warmth and humour amidst a rainbow of characters which certainly left me wanting to see more. The final scene sees Nina gazing from her window at a sailor below. Sometimes so little can say so much.
Review by Lorraine
Stills provided by Chris Ward