Pros: A unique show, combining lyrical narration with traditional folklore.
Cons: An over-ambitious production which is grandiose and rather muddled at times.
This ambitious outdoor production is performed in homage to the life and art of iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. It is staged in the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich — a grand setting, perfect for a large scale, summer performance. Though the tarmac foreground of the central gateway is more associated with ‘Trooping the Colour’ than with a feminist, anti-establishment cult artist, I’m sure Kahlo herself would have appreciated the irony! The venue is kitted out with bleachers and a few pop-up Mexican style street food stalls in an effort to bring a festival ambiance to Woolwich.
The performance is visually exciting. Industrial-sized cranes winch hunks of vertical staging into the air, while artists from the Wired Aerial Theatre sail with expressionistic zeal against a backdrop of kaleidoscopic animations of Kahlo’s work. Across the makeshift arena (which is about the size of a football pitch), light projections whiz onto a massive floating white dress as pyrotechnics are set off at regular intervals.
A traditional flying ceremony, featuring the colourfully dressed Volodora women from the Mexican village of Xochiapulco, closes proceedings with a gentle lull as they drift in circles down to the ground, suspended upside down from a giant totem pole.
Though writer Jay Griffiths has tried to impart the essence of Kahlo’s life, loves and artistic struggles, this short 45 min production unfortunately lacks coherence and is unable to deliver the emotional nuance Kahlo’s story needs. The booming, vitriolic delivery of Pippa Nixon, playing Kahlo in her traditional costume, is downright jarring, and the stream-of-consciousness monologue is unintentionally hilarious.
This show will do nothing to illuminate those unfamiliar with Kahlo’s life story. Die-hard Kahlo fans may even take offence at the overblown pomposity of the production. However, for those with a sense of humour, this is fabulous entertainment.