Pablo Picasso: Paedophile, Predator & Ponce. Such is the picture painted by three powerfully searing dramatic monologues written by Brian McAvera. The great social critic Walter Benjamin famously remarked that all documents of civilization are simultaneously documents of barbarism. Picasso’s Women dramatizes the veracity of this aphorism in spades. Over the course of three thirty minute dramatic monologues, we get as close as we ever will to what Picasso’s Women – whether as Muse, Model or Mistress – thought of him.
The venue for Picasso’s Women is the Gallery Different 14 Percy Street. On the walls surrounding the performance are works of art by women inspired by or about Picasso. The interplay between the performance in such an intimate space with such evocative art on all sides adds a whole extra dimension to the dramatic experience. I found it utterly exhilarating.
The first of the three monologues concerns Fernande Olivier (Judith Paris) who met Picasso in 1904 at The Bateau-Lavoir, Paris (basically a squat in Montmartre ). Fernande was a sexually abused girl who ran away to Paris. There she ended up at the Bateau-Lavoir and was abused and raped by various artists. Picasso took her up. He was less brutal than the others but none the less treated her shockingly. Slapping her in the face, using her as a model for little or no pay and locking her up in the flat. A kind of sadomasochistic relationship ensued. Judith Paris captures the paradoxical attraction and abuse of her eight years with Picasso. On one level it’s an almost textbook case of Stockholm Syndrome, where the victim identifies with the abuser.
The second monologue is about Olga Khokhlova (Colette Redgrave, wonderful) Picasso’s wife from 1918 till her death in 1958. Colette brings to life the feisty Russian aristocrat Olga. She sees right through Picasso’s selfishness and egotism. Having used her to ingratiate himself with Stravinsky, Diaghilev and the other Russian exiles in Paris Picasso wants to dump Olga and their son Paulo. Olga is having none of it. With sparkling wit and biting satire, Colette gives a tour de force of Olga’s put-downs. “He’s nothing but a Piss artist… if you dipped his four-inch penis in white paint and drew a line of all the women he has shagged it would stretch from Montmartre to Monte Carlo.” These are just two of her most memorable quips. The emphasis she puts on the word ‘Piss’ is wonderful. Olga sends him postcards with self-portraits by Goya or Rembrandt with messages like… ‘shame you can’t paint as well as they can’. She knew his weak spots all right. As she remarks well… if going to hurt may as well do it properly. Using all her guile she refused to divorce him and set the lawyers on him to get a fair share of his assets. She got a chateau, a pension and custody of Paulo. Good for her.
In the third and final monologue, we meet Marie-Therese Walter (Kirsten Moore) who met Picasso in 1927 outside the Galeries Lafayette window shopping age 17. Well, Marie was window shopping, Picasso was on the prowl looking for just such a blonde young woman. Picasso was a flaneur who had mastered the art of pursuing women, using the tried and trusted formula… find ’em, follow ’em, finger ’em, f*ck ’em and forget ’em. With the paintbrush doubling as a finger and a penis. Marie was legally a minor so Picasso was sexually abusing a child. Picasso the pedo. Not pretty. Kirsten excels as the naïve and excited young ingénue thrilled to be adored by the world’s most famous artist. Soon enough Picasso grows tired of her and moves on to other women. Penniless (even after selling all her love letters from him and clipping’s of his toenails) and friendless, forbidden to attend his funeral, she hanged herself.
Picasso’s Women is a powerful piece of drama which makes us all think again about the dark side of art and culture. After such knowledge what forgiveness?
Review by John O’Brien
Picasso’s Women features a series of monologues and confessionals performed by three of the most influential women in the early life of seminal 20th Century artistic genius, Picasso.
Flying Elephant Productions presents
Written by Brian McAvera, Directed by Marcia Carr
Following a critically acclaimed, sell out run at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the reimaged production of Picasso’s Women transfers to London this Autumn. Continuing the site specific theme, the play is set in a contemporary art space, Gallery Different in London, from Tuesday 25 – Saturday 29 September at 19:30 (Duration 1h 30m).