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PICASSO at The Playground Theatre

Well, there’s a bit about Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973) paintings in this show that bears his name. But it’s mostly about his approach towards women. Peter Tate is very convincing in his portrayal of an unpleasant man, full of self-belief: “I have magical powers that even I do not understand,” he declares in all seriousness. Nothing short of a misogynist, the gift of the gab lures various women into his life, a pattern that continues into his older years. In this adaptation of a play that once had several actors, the solo performance suits the self-indulgent character who possesses a ‘devil take the hindmost’ approach to life.

Peter Tate as Picasso. Photo Brigitta Scholz-Mastroianni Nux Photography.
Peter Tate as Picasso. Photo Brigitta Scholz-Mastroianni Nux Photography.

He says, quite consistently, that the women he was either married to or would have married if he wasn’t already married, belonged to him, and they were required to do what he wanted them to do, no questions asked. (I did ponder – and there was plenty of time to think, such was the unhurried pacing of this show – whether he asked any of them to predict the future, and what the consequences might be once the slightest of errors in their predictions were identified.) One of them, I don’t recall which, as the audience got to know next to nothing about any of them, walked out on him, rather than the other way around: the great man couldn’t believe his will was no longer her command. Naturally, it was difficult to feel any sympathy for someone so incredibly nasty.

The unpleasantness overflowed into some of the women – the last, Jacqueline Roque (1937-1986), barred Picasso’s grandson, Pablito, from his (Picasso’s) funeral – Pablito was taken by his own hand shortly thereafter. Towards the end of the show, there’s a blackout, after which Picasso re-emerges, topless and wearing a bull’s head, as though he were the Minotaur. He is sufficiently aggressive, I suppose, and saw himself as someone who devoured anyone who he succeeded in seducing. “If a woman succeeds in getting close to me, I destroy her,” he asserted earlier.

This play, for whatever reason, doesn’t name Picasso’s artworks relating to the Minotaur, such as ‘Minotaurmachy’, a violent and disturbing painting, or ‘Bullfight: Death of the Toreador’, in which, as the title suggests, a bullfighter and his horse are killed. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, none of Picasso’s artworks – prints, engravings, sculptures and so on as well as paintings – were shown, with the show concentrating instead on video footage of Picasso interacting with his various women. As far as the videos go, the audience was thankfully spared the worst effects of his conduct.

Not that it doesn’t pull its punches. Tate does so well at playing Picasso as an abominable person that it becomes difficult to appreciate how good, so to speak, a performance he puts in. At various points, however, in between scenes, he takes it upon himself to dance, which was pleasant enough to begin with but steadily descended with each round into displays of an embarrassing and drunk father at his daughter’s wedding. It was cringey enough to make me want to wish he would get back to being outrightly offensive.

Fifty years after Picasso’s death, the play imagines he still thinks of himself as a legend. He’d almost certainly be ‘cancelled’ if he were around now, and frankly rightly so. Even an hour’s running time seems too long to make a single point –  namely, Pablo Picasso was a Very Bad Man, a sort of Henry VIII-type figure who dispensed with one woman for another, and another, and so on. The audience is invited to make its own mind up about Picasso’s personal character, but with the show itself being so one-sided, it would be a surprise if, except in jest, very many people think highly of him after seeing such a narcissistic and arrogant display. To quote Dad’s Army, “Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Undisputed genius, visionary, and artist… with which no lover could
compete… yet, without whose love he could not live. Picasso lived and loved like no other… His obsession reflected in his art but equally destroyed his
subjects… Should he be condemned or forgiven?

‘Love is the greatest refreshment in life.’ Pablo Picasso

PICASSO by Terry d’Alfonso
Adapted & Directed by Guy Masterson
Performed by Peter Tate
The Playground Theatre, 25 January – 4 February, 2023
https://theplaygroundtheatre.london/

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