25 January 2023
PICASSO (The Playground Theatre) Review

Spoiler alert: I have to tell you what the play is about in order to review it properly…  No plot twists will be given away, but the main topic of the play will be…

Given the name of the play (and having purposefully read very little about it), I assumed it was about Picasso’s life and art.  Not quite, as it turned out.  The play is really about the main 6 loves Picasso had during his life:

  • Olga Khokhlova (his first wife, a ballerina, 10 years his junior)
  • Marie-Thérèse Walter (a model, almost 20 years his junior)
  • Dora Maar (a photographer, 25 years his junior)
  • Françoise Gilot (an artist, 40 years his junior)
  • Geneviève Laporte (a filmmaker, almost 40 years his junior)
  • Jacqueline Roque (his second wife, a salesperson, 45 years his junior)

Peter Tate as Picasso, alone on stage, shows an extensive range of emotion as he recounts his feelings for (and about!) every one of these women.  For all the love and inspiration these woman had given him, he didn’t seem to have treated them very nicely…  There are some really good lines in the play around that…  When Olga suggests he should change his son’s nappy, he screams, “I do not change diapers, I am a great artist”.  When Olga tells him she is unwell, he simply tells here that talk of illness depresses him.  When Françoise (who had 2 children with him) suggests, as she leaves him, that he should take responsibility for his children, he huffs, “You have two Picassos!”

Tate’s face is brilliantly expressive.  He flirts with the audience both figuratively and literally (he turns to a woman in the front row and tells her how lovely she is).  It’s not a long show, but time flies by just listening to him and watching him do a bit of Flamenco.  The story is also informative and is a fairly accurate representation of Picasso’s life.  No production is perfect though.  There are some rather cringy moments both in staging and text.  The suggestive scenes and innuendo could’ve easily been dropped without hurting the play in any way.  And then there was “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás”.  I don’t know if Picasso actually liked this song or if this was just Guy Masterson’s directorial choice, but it’s very difficult not to think of “Coupling” (the TV series), as the English version as its theme song…  I would’ve thought other songs would’ve worked just as well without the distracting association, but perhaps not.

Much as I’ve been vocal about disliking the use of video projection in plays, mostly because it seems to get more unnecessary and samey with every production, the little video clips here are work unbelievably well.  They give the 6 women a strong presence without overpowering the man of the hour.  It’s as if they pop up now and again to remind us that they have their own point of view on their relationships with Picasso, even if they can’t express them.

After the show finished (I saw the first preview), Tate came out and mingled with the audience.  I learned two interesting things from him:  Terry d’Alfonso’s original text was called “The Loves of Picasso” and had the parts of the women performed by women on stage, and, as d’Alfonso died a few years back, Peter Tate himself had a hand in tweaking the text for this production.  A thoroughly enjoyable and educational evening!

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £ 7.

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