Camden People’s Theatre
Reviewed – 22nd August 2019
“A more undiluted approach would undoubtedly give a much sharper taste of the man and his muse”
“Muse” is a new play based on the life of surrealist photographer Dora Marr and her relationship with Pablo Picasso. Given just a sixty-minute slot as part of the Camden Fringe it cannot hope to be much more than a snapshot of this fascinating and turbulent liaison. Their relationship lasted nearly nine years, during which Picasso held onto his other mistresses; in particular Marie-Thérèse Walter, the mother of his daughter Maya. Picasso was a complicated and multi-layered character whose wives and lovers were absolutely integral to his career; they were very much the subjects that inspired him, and while history neither condones nor condemns his sometimes abusive conduct, it relishes exploring the relationship between the artist and his muse.
Antonia Georgieva’s play follows a long line of dramas that focuses on this theme. But rather than focus on its subjects the lens swoops chaotically, trying to catch a wider angle and cram in too many other personalities. Surrealist poet Paul Éluard and his wife Nusch make cameo appearances, Man Ray gets a mention; the writer Lise Deharne and art critic Françoise Gilot are caught off camera. The result is a blurred portrait that, instead of enticing us to unravel the confusion, is not particularly interesting to look at.
By her own admission, Georgieva, who also directs, has opted for an abstract, fragmented telling of the story. The cast, whilst appearing not to know fully what that story is, give committed performances. Sarah Kentish’s Marie-Thérèse Walter stands out with her mix of jealousy towards and superiority over Dora Marr, neatly combining the desire to fight with a weary resignation. But Jahmai Maasai lacks the presence and bullish charisma to portray Picasso. Whether he is trying to reveal the softer side of Pablo is unclear, but you never get a true sense of one of art’s most famous womanisers. He appears weak, especially in the famous episode where, having been confronted by Walter and Marr to choose between them, he tells them to fight it out for themselves.
The peripheral characters are somewhat superfluous, and hugely underwritten. Georgieva gives Claire-Monique Martin’s spirited Nusch Eluard too fleeting an appearance (Nusch is a character who deserves a play to herself) and the others are cruelly relegated to the side-lines.
Pablo Picasso had complicated relationships with many of the women in his life. He either revered them or abused them (famously quoted as saying that “there are only two kinds of women, goddesses or doormats”). He was married twice and had multiple mistresses, often simultaneously, and it can be argued that his sexuality fuelled his art. “Muse” is a generalised account of this fact that gives short shrift to his muses. Blink and you miss a couple of them. A more undiluted approach would undoubtedly give a much sharper taste of the man and his muse.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Timna Lugstein
Camden People’s Theatre until 25th August as part of Camden Fringe 2019
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