Pros: Hilarious and seamless, portrayed with ruthless intelligence evocative of the way Picasso saw the world. Truly unique and masterful.
Cons: I wonder if people with different sight lines would have such an enjoyable time. History buffs might be a little miffed with historical inaccuracy. These are minor criticisms, however.
This show is a mad-cap romp through Paris with artist Picasso, poet Apollinaire and the rest of the now famous Paris art crowd of the early 1900s. It follows them around at the time of the real theft of the Mona Lisa, and portrays their exploration of women, absinthe and elusive artistic truth. Throwing off the naturalism of their predecessors, mocking the talent of the day, the two strive to portray a world as it is – but not the one we see with our eyes.
Such a tale, which seeks to get inside the head of such unique characters, was always going to be challenging, but Fourth Monkey Theatre Company not only ices the cake but places cherries on top. This is such an intelligently acted, directed, costumed, lit, propped and sound-designed play that there is a post-doctoral thesis buried in each discipline.
The story is somewhat… stretched – but only in terms of the actual events (which is amusing considering Picasso’s tension between what’s there and what’s there). The historical liberties taken tell with great gusto the attitudes of this surrealistic and cubist family which, in my mind, is more important than fact.
It’s also hilarious. The right blend of humour styles are beautifully interwoven so whatever your particular predilection for comedy, you’ll find it here. This was greatly helped by being able to see the audience cringing and giggling – they are placed around you on three sides.
Anyone with an appreciation for painting will enjoy the technical understanding of Zahra Mansouri, the set designer who plays with scale, sightlines and interwoven colour. A simple set of squares light the floor space. These reflect on the moon-like floor, allowing swatches of colour to amplify and sooth in equal measures. Tiny doors and giant coffee cups easily convey symbolic meaning in a fun and delightful way which allows an entire city to be built with very little. Costumes take the same approach with a modest cast whirling through a fanfare of parts.
The cast is incredibly strong, especially James John Bryant whose rubber face and sheer vitality almost steal the focus away from Sherwood Alexander as Picasso, who is lovable, arrogant and debauched in equal amounts. I especially love Dada Cop which I hope is a subtle homage to a particular webcomic.
Steven Green, author, and Charleen Qwaye, director, must have a wonderful intellectual and artistic understanding of each other. In the first instance, this story is so perfectly told that it’s hard to imagine it taking any other form. In the second, in a piece so heavy with the swear words, not one feels irrelevant or gratuitous. There must be other ways of presenting this tale, and it would be great to see them – but it’s hard to imagine one as masterful as this synthesis of company come around anytime soon.
The piece is exceptional and deserves to be seen by thousands.
Author: Steven Green
Director: Charleen Qwaye
Produced by: Fourth Monkey Theatre Company
Box Office: 0844 8700 887
Booking Link: http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/search/searchEvent.asp?event_id=43902
Booking Until: 1st March 2014