‘Picasso’s Women’ is an adults-only selection of three very different aspects of the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso’s life, as experienced by three of his lovers. Born the son of an art lecturer, in Málaga southern Spain, Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso in 1881.
He produced his first notable works aged only 20 with his famous ‘blue’ period. Despite constant hard work, debauchery that included two wives, four legitimate children and a hundred lovers, he died aged 91. Traumatised by his sister’s death from diphtheria when he was fourteen, Picasso’s attitude to emotional situations became hard and uncaring – his death left a trail of misery – ‘when Pablo paints, he paints with other people’s blood’.
For some time, he was supported by American art collectors Leo and Gertrude Stein. Picasso refused to fight for Spain in the two World Wars, and yet was refused French citizenship for his communistic attitudes. So, two years later he joined the Communist Party.
The three no punches spared, superbly written three stories have a lyrical, commanding attraction to them. They have been chosen from the series of eight prize-winning monologues penned by Belfast-born, dramatist, director, curator and art historian, Brian McAvera. This magnificent trio of fascinating tales are being performed by the Harbour Theatre group each evening at 7.30 in the Camelot Theatre, 16 Lochee Street in Mosman Park. This MUST-SEE presentation can be seen on Friday and Saturday evenings until 4th December. There is a midweek performance on Wednesday 1st December at 7.30 and two Sunday matinées at 2.00 pm.
Each of the works is around 35-minutes. With a monologue there can be no guidance or prompting from other actors on the stage, there is little action to aid the thought processes; monologues are pure hard graft, with every word and movement in each performance being the responsibility of the actor alone. Offered a 5-minute monologue in a play by the director or producer, most actors would cringe and run.
The 1988 – 98 BBC Tv series of Alan Bennett’s 40-minute monologues, ‘Talking Heads’ was presented by a couple of dozen, very well-known actors who were taken out of their comfort zones by the amazing tales. With TV these actors had the chance to be edited, our actors at the Harbour Theatre do not have that luxury.
Scene: Paris between 1920 and 1945. 1960 Antibes on the Mediterranean coast near Cannes.
Set design: The set consisted mainly of wooden daises, cubes and giant Cuisenaire rods painted in a variety of pleasant, soft pastel shades. The blocks acted convincingly as a bed, chaise-longue and the Pyrenean Mountains.
Set constructed: by Brian Mahoney, Phil Redding, Tina Barker, Bruce Frederickson, Matt Cuccovia, Grace Hitchin, Julie Mackay, and Jarrod Buttery.
Lighting design and operator: The simplicity of most of the scenes’ lighting made Rob Tagliaferri brief bursts of dramatic lighting even more effective and poignant. Rob also controlled the well-resourced, historical, and artistic collection of shots, presented as projected series of photographs.
Sound design and operator: Vanessa Gudgeon played passages from the musical ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and later, a most realistic and well-constructed, particular sound effect.
Stage manager: Rumour has it that Tina Barker supplied all the props from her home collection.
Photography: Fine work from Michael McAllan
Fernande Olivier (Melissa Merchant) was the same age as Picasso. Although married, this quiet girl became his muse, model and his first ‘puppet’.
Françoise Gilot (Anna Head) was an art student, 40 years younger than Picasso. Deeply in love, sensitive but strong minded.
Jacqueline Roque (Sherryl Spencer) 45 years younger than Pablo she was besotted by the artist. She appears in 70 of his major works.
Many would consider choosing to direct a play like this to be total madness. Where could this skilled director, Jarrod Buttery, find even a single capable actor? Well, he found three experienced ‘veterans’. Each of the cast not only learned the script flawlessly but managed to say odd passages in French and Spanish with convincing accents. Jacqueline had to sing (fabulous voice Sherryl), change attire, yet still give a moving performance with believable emotional depth.
Sadly, monologues can often be words and more words, when after a few minutes you can feel your mind drifting. Not here. The performers moved naturally, but meaningfully around the stage, their facial expressions taking you with them in anticipation of the next revelation. The audience genuinely felt involved in the artist’s complex love life. Great presentation.
Melissa Merchant has a doctorate in English, her thesis being on Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. Dr Melissa is now a lecturer in English at Murdoch University. She has been in a couple of these playlets in the past, but here you can see the depth of her suffering as a hint of tears comes to her eyes. A most touching performance. Sherryl and Anna have been in numerous Shakespearean productions, but this time the style was one of a friend or gossip letting you into a few hidden secrets.
With costume assistance from Jo Sterkenburg and Merri Ford, the three actors looked remarkably like Pablo’s real-life loves. These stories are crammed with passion, interesting facts, and horrendous tales. The actors grab you with their opening sentences and hold you there like a limp rag as you soak up their often miserable and abused lives. This collection is for anyone who enjoys quality writing, superb acting and top direction. You need not be interested in the topic of Picasso, but within seconds you will be wanting to know more about this philanderer.
Theatre at its best. Stunning performances from three of WA’s best actors. VERY highly recommended. Go back for a second night and appreciate the standard of the writing to the full.