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The Woman Who Amuses Herself at the Jack Studio Theatre

As the Mona Lisa measures 30” x 21”, it can seem somewhat unremarkable to some visitors to the Louvre Museum in Paris – there must be a large number of considerably larger paintings than that in the same building. Having been completed in 1519, or rather not worked on any further after Leonardo da Vinci’s death that year, it is now apparently too fragile to be transported anywhere, so it stays where it is. Other theories seem to suggest its high profile means it is simply too great a risk to take it on tour, not least because it just might go missing, regardless of the implementation of special precautions.

The Woman Who Amuses Herself
The Woman Who Amuses Herself

What The Woman Who Amuses Herself tells its audiences is that it’s already been done, and without the Mona Lisa going on tour. Vincenzo Peruggia (1881-1925) (Tice Oakfield) effectively performed an inside job, the details of which are readily available elsewhere and therefore need not be regurgitated here. Being Italian, he wanted the painting back on home turf – this production suggests Peruggia believed the French plundered it from Italy, so he stole it back. His viewpoint is something of a departure from the history books, which say da Vinci sold the painting to King Francis I of France (1494-1547), but Peruggia was nonetheless considered a hero by a good number of his contemporaries in Italy.

The narrative, like the painting, is rather detailed. Single-performer shows sometimes don’t do enough to provide more than a single perspective – this one provides several, and not all of them are from Peruggia’s era. (Some previous productions of this play have featured several actors – it’s possible to have as many as twelve.) It is not, in the end, as complicated as I am making it sound – costume changes, as well as distinct changes in tone, for instance, make it easy to work out when a teenager is doing a presentation on the Mona Lisa in the classroom. The presentations are not, in my view, all that authentic – though this is hardly the fault of the actor, who delivers lines written by an adult trying to sound like a child but ends up sounding even more like an adult, in a similar way to which the exaggerated speech of a drunk person trying to sound sober has the opposite effect.

Indeed, Oakfield possesses incredible versatility in switching between characters. Some are more relatable than others. The audience being given the role of school pupils (passively, I hasten to add) whom ‘Miss Mattel’ is struggling to control was a moment of amusement, while Oakfield’s portrayal of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) provided an entirely different and irreverent point of view on the painting. Overall, it’s briskly paced, and avoids over-explaining quite how a fairly benign portrait became so renowned centuries after it was painted. Sometimes the story surrounding a painting can be far more fascinating than the painting itself.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Paris, 1911. A worker at the Louvre walks out of the museum with its most famous painting hidden under his coat.

Based on an incredible true story, The Woman Who Amuses Herself reveals one of the greatest heists in history. It takes us on a roller coaster ride beyond the famous smile in this funny and moving UK premiere.

The Woman Who Amuses Herself is produced by the same team behind the Offie-nominated five-star productions of Kes, Lifeboat, Kindred Spirits and The Invisible Man. Produced by special arrangement with Playscripts, Inc.

The Woman Who Amuses Herself
by Victor Lodato
produced by The Jack Studio Theatre
Tues 12 – Sat 23 July 2022

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