REVIEW: Picasso, Playground Theatre ✭✭

Picasso Playground Theatre
The cast of Picasso. Photo: Scott Rylander

The Playground Theatre,
7 November 2017
2 Stars
Book Tickets

The opening of a new theatre is always to be celebrated, and we all welcome the arrival in the inferno-traumatised Latimer Road area of this fine new development, a remodelling of a former bus garage, done out stylishly and elegantly with an all day cafe that doubles up as the bar.  A glitzy, star-studded audience was assembled to welcome the commencement of playing in this space, with a brand new play about one of the greatest artists of all time – and, it happens, a personal favourite, Pablo Picasso.

Klara Zieglerova has come up with a moody circle of loose earth, or is it sand, for the actors to pace about and roll around upon: a playground indeed.  Davy Cunningham lights it with simplicity, and there are video projections by Matthew Ferguson that show us the cast in film clips, or other footage and images.  The rest of the action is represented in the ’round’ sand space by Co-Artistic Director of the theatre, Peter Tate, in the title role, and Adele Oni, Claire Bowman and Alejandra Costa as three of his many ladies.  On screen, we also get Milena Vukotiv, Margot Sikabonyi and Sandra Collodel as three more.

The script, by Terry D’Alfonso, was perhaps finished by the time of her death, but possibly not.  I suspect rather the latter, since the work has all the feel of an elaborated sketch without possessing any of the life or energy of actual theatre.  The text we have feels more like an idea for a play, rather than the meat and bones of drama itself.  Perhaps influenced by this, the careful and rather static direction by Michael Hunt seems to draw more attention to this aspect of the work: characters are placed in position to deliver often lengthy and repetitive speeches upon more or less abstract topics, which may or may not be an attempt to evoke one of the multiple styles adopted by the artist.

Above all, it is the lead performance by Peter Tate, a studied exercise in monotony, which is most baffling and wearing.  He scarcely alters his manner of speech for the slim 70 minutes of the work, making that short span feel like an eternity.  This, I am quite sure, is an entirely deliberate and conscious move: he is far too good an actor to have stumbled accidentally upon such an approach.  Nonetheless, the effect of this is to grind the audience down into submission, much like a toreador might with a bull in the ring (one of the several obvious and over-used images of the script).

Against his monolithic approach to characterisation, the intermittent complaints and whinges of his cooing acolytes, the shallow, colourless women who apparently have nothing better to do with their lives than throw them away on a worthless ego-maniac, are a painful chorus of disapproval. Quite why on earth any of them saw anything in the other remains, until the bitter end, totally mysterious.

If you think this might be your sort of thing, then do go.  However, you might want to think twice.

Until 5 November


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