In the Autumn of 1853 the great Victorian critic John Ruskin delivered four lectures at the Philosophical Institution in Queen Street, Edinburgh. Controversial and impassioned, they criticised the then fashionable Grecian architectural movement, taking a stab at Edinburgh’s sense of civic pride in its New Town, its so called Athens of the North.
Although the content is dated, the discussion remains relevant as the evidence of the Classical vs Gothic can be seen throughout Edinburgh. Leaving the lecture one can’t help but look around and see the points made by Ruskin, particularly those concerning the nature of fussy, needless detailing and ornamentation at the tops of buildings. Ruskin argues for the clear, pronounced style of the Gothic, bold and brave, to aesthetically enrich the city.
Invigorating and engaging, Paul O’Keeffe uses energy and sharp wit to bring this stern Victorian writer to life. Confidently grand, verging on the bombastic, he delivers the speech with a deep, booming voice and beckoning, grasping hand gestures. It’s enthralling and helps to get the sometimes heavy-going text across.
Although the National Gallery of Scotland is an appropriate venue, something would have been gained from a more historically fitting setting. Ruskin is like a little isolated clipping of the past in his stiff Victorian suit, under the glaring electric lights and manufactured wood ceilings.
I have to admit I was not initially aware that each performance date was an individual lecture from a series of four, this one being the second; the blurb could have made this clearer. It is likely they should be seen together for the full effect, in which case it is a shame that each lecture is only performed once this summer.