Pros: It isn’t often we get to see one woman owning the stage.
Cons: The absence of an interval seems unnecessary.
If you were born a Guggenheim you were either rich or very rich, so I’ve read.
Peggy Guggenheim inherited $2.5 million ($35.3 million in today’s money; the not very rich side of rich) when she turned 21 in 1919. By the time she died in 1979 she had amassed a collection of modern art, now housed in The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy.
A notorious man-eater, Peggy counted Samuel Beckett among her lovers and Max Ernst among her husbands. She published a memoir in 1946 that detailed her sexual exploits and created quite the scandal at the time, and any woman expressing her sexual identity in this era can only have helped pave the way for our sexy selves today, so yay Peggy.
In Woman Before A Glass, a one woman play, we are with Peggy in her 60’s, in the 1960’s; she’s still going strong, her children are grown, and she’s trying to work out where to leave her art collection. The play follows her trains of thought as she recalls her hedonistic past, negotiates the present, and prepares for the future.
Judy Rosenblatt as Peggy Guggenheim owns the stage. Despite there being only her onstage, the space felt busy and was used well; Rosenblatt constantly leads our eye around the space, testament to her skills as a performer. With a stamina I can only dream of, she manages 90 minutes of monologue and a great amount of stage business, including putting on a bra whilst neither revealing herself, nor taking her dress off; a tour de force manoeuvre, by any standards. Sometimes funny, sometimes trite, Rosenblatt makes Peggy live and breathe, and drink and smoke, in the guilt free way people did in the mid twentieth century; a live performance in the truest sense of the word.
In spite of this, something about the play left me cold. Peggy does live on stage, but there was little insight offered into her depths, her reactions and responses to the events of her packed life. The great emotional peak of the show comes close to the end, and fades as quickly as fizz from an opened soft drink can. The glimpses into her soul were absent, consequently, I understood certain of her emotions, but did not share in them with her in the moment.
I feel this is intended as a play for those interested in Peggy as a historical figure, or for those who appreciate the art of performance. The rewards for the latter are greater than for the former. I knew nothing about Peggy Guggenheim other than that she started a museum and had a lot of affairs. I was a bit misinformed on that first point, not at all misinformed on the second. She remains familiar to me in the hazy way that wealthy people who start institutions like foundations or galleries or film studios are: known of, but ever unknowable.
Director: Austin Pendleton
Writer: Lanie Robertson
Producer: Jermyn Street Theatre
Box Office: 020 7287 2875
Booking Link: http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/woman-before-a-glass/
Booking Until: 3rd February 2018