In sacramental hospital I sat down and wept

Neil Bartlett addresses the main problem with his latest piece straightaway. None of you, he tells us rather sternly, knows the words to the religious rites of confirmation, baptism or marriage. He is standing at the front of a medical lecture theatre in the Royal London Hospital. Everyone, reduced by the setting to students, shifts nervously in their seats. I try to recall the various sacraments in their right order. Does Penance come before Ordination? What is Holy Eucharist anyway?

Bartlett's dramatic monologue, The Seven Sacraments of Nicolas Poussin, has as its focal point a series of religious paintings by the 17th- century artist, tracing the passage of the body from baptism to death. Each features a protean, yellow-robed protagonist who changes age and sex from one painting to the next. Helped by his friends - video artist Robin Whitmore and lighting designer Rick Fisher - Bartlett re-enacts these paintings, casting himself as the yellow-robed form.

The difficulty is that we are never allowed to see the paintings. Bartlett describes them meticulously and we are given projected details, but the effect of watching him balanced precariously on a medical lecture bench, draped in yellow, relating how in the corner of the frame an altar-boy is holding an unlit candle to the flame of another, is one of dissatisfaction. Too often, the curiosity he presumably means to incite tips over into frustration. "The first painting, as you can see," he says at one point and we all squint at a postcard reproduction taped to a blackboard. Considering those involved, the visuals are disappointing and, despite Bartlett's intriguingly Mephistophelian demeanour, at times I wondered if he was a charismatic enough performer to hold our attention for a full hour and a half.

It is, however, the interplay between script and site that carries the piece. How Bartlett persuaded the Royal London Hospital to house it I don't know. There is something weirdly sacrilegious about walking past waiting-rooms and wards on your way to the theatre. But Bartlett handles this tricky tension with a kind of grieving sensibility. References to life in the hospital are by far the most affecting: he compares the curtains kept drawn over Poussin's paintings to the curtains drawn round a patient's bed during an examination. The relating of how the sheet of glass which separates the morgue viewing-room from the body has to be cleaned often because it becomes covered with the frantic handprints of the bereaved has most of the audience in tears.

Like life itself, this piece isn't perfect. It's just that for one performer, grappling with the questions of mortality and the sacred and profane is a lot to take on single-handedly.

Royal London Hospital, E1 (0181 741 2133); today & Mon.

Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'


Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Life and Style

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

    KS1 & KS2 Primary Teacher Jobs in Blackpool

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Preston: KS1 & KS2 Primary Teacher Jobs in ...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

    Primary Teacher Jobs in Blackpool

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Preston: Primary Teacher Jobs in BlackpoolWe ar...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album