Wednesday, 8 November 2017
by Terry d'Alfonso
Genius Artist (NSOH*) Seeks Muse And Sex
An attractive new venue is always something to celebrate and two have come along at nearly the same time.
The refurbishment of The Playground Theatre, now run by Anthony Biggs and Peter Tate in West London follows the opening of the Bridge Theatre on the River Thames.
In its own way, it is as good a space and, some would say, far more of a blank canvas, accommodating up to 200 people and with good sightlines from flexible seating.
It also has a smart but welcoming cafe/bar and aims to programme a diverse mix of international and home-grown work with classical concerts, dance and film, as well as theatre.
The first production, Picasso, combines many of the disciplines the space aims to serve.
Written by woman writer, the late Terry D'Alfonso, it started as a fantasy piece with Picasso in the dock with a lawyer defending him against the accusations of the women in his life.
However. somewhere from then to now, it lost its way and become a piece where the artist’s wives and lovers, three women on stage and three on video become mere props worshipping an artistic genius.
Even before the current situation where the borderline and beyond of celebrity, ambition and sexual abuse have come under the microscope as never before, this feels like an opportunity missed to direct the play, even if it were not possible to change the words, in a way that examines these same issues through the cult of Picasso.
The production has a curiously dated attitude towards the artist, with Picasso,, played by Peter Tate, as the centre of female veneration, Only one of the trio of women on stage, Adele Oni's Geneviève LaPorte's older self, is allowed a very fleeting facial expression of disgust.
And maybe there is a hint of, frankly understandable power play, by his last wife, Jacqueline - Alejandra Costa - as his body weakens but otherwise these seem like tamed, put-upon women who don't ever understand Picasso's lusty, bull-like appetites for sex and procreation .
Perhaps this is somewhat reflected in the programme note of director Michael Hunt who applies the words "jealous" and "jealousy" to two of the women with whom Picasso set up home, had children and then abandoned as he moved on to the next lover.
It's also a problem that the three female actors, including Claire Bowman as Marie-Thérèse Walther another of his younger model lovers and mother of his second child, are also given the role of perfunctory narrators and tend to speak with the same voice.
However, it is a good-looking production with a distinctive, clear cut representation of a bullring and vibrant costume colours from designer Klara Zieglerova and a soundtrack including Steve Reich's flamenco-inspired Clapping Theme.
The actors playing three of Picasso's partners in the black and white video are Milena Vukotic, Margot Sikabonyi as another version of Marie-Thérèse Walther nnd Sandra Collodel as Dora Maar.
A more down- to-earth-moment did emerge about just how beholden his various partners and children were to him with the cheques his bank allowed him to issue them from time to time. Was it profane that TLT wondered if the artist, whose business was art, put it on expenses?
Nobody would suggest that any portrayal of Picasso should include him donning an apron and washing the family socks.
However this would have worked better as an art installation, with the paintings built up in Matthew Ferguson’s video ,and keeping Picasso’s pronouncements to a minimum, relying on the visuals. The Picasso story could be an insightful good story for our times, but this isn’t it - a lower range amber light.
Nevertheless TLT and her own motorised sidekick, with such good production values, are looking forward to the next show, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince.
*NSOH - Mock small ad speak for No Sense Of Humour