Review: Picasso, The Playground Theatre

The inaugural performance at The Playground Theatre transformed the space from what was previously a bus depot into a bull pit-come-court room, exhibiting Picasso’s sometimes playful and sometimes torturous tendencies towards the female muses in his life. As audience members, we naturally align ourselves with the females surrounding Picasso – Adele Oni as Geneviève Laporte, Claire Bowman as Marie-Thérèse Walter and Alejandra Costa as Jacqueline Roque – becoming the jury who judge Picasso’s (played by Peter Tate) fruitless defence of his infamous misogyny.

Terry d’Alfonso’s fluidly constructed narrative does nothing to break convention, but instead reinforces the recognised portrait of this influential twentieth century artist. Tate strengthens stereotype, by embracing his unappetising egotism and entitlement to both fame and females. He clambers up, and slumps upon his paint-splattered ladder, demonstrating what his words conveyed: a self-proclaimed monster that “extracts the essence of a woman and crushes her onto the canvas”. Destruction for Picasso was synonymous with creation.

Director Michael Hunt’s Picasso infuses life into the artists’ muses; the performance does not merely contextualise them, but voices their silence and subjection that is denied by the painter’s canvases. This allows an existence on the stage, beyond the realm of Picasso’s widely admired art, as we compare his paintings with the figures that lie bewitched and entangled below.  

I came expecting to see a celebrated artist humanised, but Tate did more to distance and brutalise his character, by playing him with a considerable intensity and a sombre seriousness. Oni’s frustratingly naïve characterisation of Geneviève, Bowman’s overly indignant expressions and Costa’s ferocious perseverance added to the overall exasperated onstage energy, which convincingly conveyed the grinding backstory to Pablo’s art. His canvases were filled by inspirations which originated in his relationships, oscillating from sensual pleasure to agonising passion. Erotic scenes littered the performance, providing slightly forced and uncomfortable proof of the stimulation and movements behind his paintbrush. Bowman enacts Marie-Thérèse’s suicide, alongside Margot Sikabonyi whose disturbing “maiden sacrifice to the Minotaur” is simultaneously projected onto the back wall. Mario Amura’s pairing of the visual and physical enforces a shock factor, which only adds to the haunting performance.   

Like Picasso’s art, Klara Zieglerova’s ambitious circular set design serves to ensnare and contain Picasso’s lovers. The sand is used as a weapon both between Picasso and his women, as well as amongst Oni, Bowman and Costa. This captures the abrasive onstage energy, which splatters towards the audience, together with Tate’s piercing penetrating stare.

 Whilst this play is not entirely refreshing in content, it successfully enters the creative dialogue by defining and redefining our preconceptions of the artist, and the value of his immortality.  

Picasso is playing at The Playground Theatre until 25th November 2017. For more information and tickets, see www.theplaygroundtheatre.london/events/picasso/