Jermyn Street Theatre has a well-deserved reputation for staging new work, and their latest production, About Leo, can only enhance this. It is difficult to believe that this beautifully written, atmospheric play is the first one by playwright Alice Allemano.
Eliza Prentice, whose character is clearly influenced by the playwright’s own life (‘I’d always wanted to write but didn’t quite feel qualified to do so’) arrives in Mexico City, an inexperienced, wannabe, journalist, to interview Mexico’s greatest living artist, British born Leonora Carrington, towards the end of her life in 2011. BUT she famously doesn’t give interviews, won’t discuss her work and certainly won’t talk about Max Ernst, with whom she lived in the late 1930s.
The play moves fluidly from modern Mexico to 1930s France where the young Leo is involved in a notorious affair with the surrealist painter, and the older Leo does gradually unbend and give Eliza the interview of a lifetime – even if it is not quite what she expected!.
The flashback scenes are greatly aided by the multi-purpose set (Erika Paola Rodriguez Egas) – a small kitchen and a massive white picture frame – as well as by the evocative lighting of Amy Mae.
Susan Tracy is the older Leo, totally believable and charismatic. The use of her hands is very effective and the sense of mischievousness in the dialogue is subtly brought out.
The younger Leo is seductively portrayed by Phoebe Pryce. Both the casting and the acting is so good that we easily believe that she is the older Leo’s younger self.
Max Ernst (Nigel Whitmey), twenty years older than young Leo, knows that he is attractive to women! He is also, perhaps surprisingly, deeply in love with Leo, and the two have many deep philosophical conversations within the play which are totally fascinating.
Alice Allemano has ensured that Leo and Max use a heightened, slightly dated language which is a total contrast to that spoken by C21 Eliza (Eleanor Wyld). Her enthusiasm runs away with her in the opening scenes and she appears gauche as the elder Leo quickly gets her drunk! Ms Wild is totally successful in showing us this contrast in character, aided by Alice Allemano’s writing.
Director Michael Oakley has brought out much of the humour and pathos of this play with great attention to detail, but ensuring that it is briskly paced and moving, especially as it moves towards the inevitable climax – a marvellous sense of stillness in the final pages.
Jermyn Street only seats 70, and this play only runs until 29th September so I urge those who enjoy a well-written, involving, witty piece of drama to delay no longer and book seats: it will be 90 minutes well spent!
Personally, I cannot wait for this playwright’s second play!
Review by John Groves
“I have never, in my life, for one moment, been anyone’s muse. I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist.”
Eliza Prentice – millennial, Londoner, wannabe journalist – has arrived in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead. She is armed with a Dictaphone, a taste for tequila, and a lot of questions. But the greatest living Mexican artist, Leonora Carrington, doesn’t give interviews. She won’t discuss her work. And she doesn’t talk about Max.
Alice Allemano’s entrancing play moves fluidly from modern Mexico to 1930s France, where the young Leo is involved in a notorious affair with the surrealist Max Ernst. An inspirational true story of art and freedom.
This is Alice Allemano’s first play. JMK Award-winning director Michael Oakley recently directed The Invisible (Bush Theatre) and The Life and Times of Fanny Hill (Bristol Old Vic).
Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) was an English-born Mexican artist and writer. She lived with Max Ernst, the leading surrealist artist of the time, in France in the 1930s. Her work has been exhibited at galleries all over the world, and major retrospectives have been held recently at Tate Liverpool and Pallant House, Chichester.
Phoebe Pryce – (Leonora Carrington (Younger)
Susan Tracy – Leonora Carrington (Older)
Nigel Whitmey – Max Ernst
Eleanor Wyld – Eliza Prentice
Wed, 5th – Sat, 29th September 2018
Jermyn Street Theatre
The REBELS Season
BY ALICE ALLEMANO
DIRECTED BY MICHAEL OAKLEY