Frida Kahlo: Viva la Vida!
Crescent – The Vaults
Reviewed – 1st February 2020
“a compellingly natural performance that is in turns tragic, comic, heart-breaking, seductive and sad, but never sentimental”
“Happy Birthday to you… Happy Birthday, dear Death…”
So begins Footprint Productions and Tirso Theatre Company’s “Frida Kahlo: Viva La Vida”, paradoxically translated as “live life” given that the setting is the Mexican holiday celebrating the ‘Day of the Dead’ (Día de Muertos). ‘Viva La Vida’ is one of Kahlo’s most recognised and important artworks: the last painting she completed just eight days before she died. The vibrant red colour of the watermelons a tragic contrast to her rapid deteriorating health. The contradiction is apt for this intimate one woman show celebrating the artist’s brief and colourful life: a playful and flamboyant fiesta that masks the complex and painful layers of a fragile soul.
Mexican writer Humberto Robles’ script, adapted by Gaël Le Cornec and Luis Benkard, is cheekily irreverent but lovingly respectful, focusing on the highs and lows of Kahlo’s memories. One-actor shows are notoriously difficult to pull off successfully but under Luis Benkard’s direction, Gaël le Cornec is like an enchantress; captivating the audience throughout. She teases and flirts, inviting us in to share her story and her Tequila (she is generous with the story, but decides to keep the liquor for herself). It is a compellingly natural performance that is in turns tragic, comic, heart-breaking, seductive and sad, but never sentimental.
Frida Kahlo had more than her fair share of suffering. Disabled by polio as a child, a traffic accident at the age of eighteen caused lifelong pain and medical problems. She was said to have “lived dying”. Le Cornec, mischievously taking another swig from her bottle, tells us “my body and I are slowly killing one another” after a graphic and shocking recollection of her accident. Just as candid are her revelations about her ‘open’ marriage to fellow artist Diego Rivera; another potent mix of joy and pain.
Presiding over Sophie Mosberger’s set are two of Kahlo’s famous paintings, reproduced by Ari Vicentin: ‘The Flying Bed’ which reflects her inability to have a child, and ‘The Two Fridas’. In the latter painting both Fridas have visible hearts; but one of them is torn open, with blood dripping onto her white dress. This show represents both hearts. It is a loving portrait of a great woman, but not afraid to tear away at the flesh and show us the fierce but faltering heartbeats that are destined to wind down all too soon.
In just over an hour it certainly gets under the surface and reveals, not just two, but many sides to Kahlo’s character. Celebrating its tenth year the show has done the rounds already, picking up awards and accolades along the way so it has had time to hone its craft. In that respect Le Cornec’s performance exceeds expectations, making this a must-see show.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by S Brancastle