Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Different brush strokes of sex

Picasso's Women Part 1

Stage 2

The Crescent Studio


THIS is a bit of a novelty for Stage 2 – a cast in single figures! Just eight people! Surely some mistake.

But what an eight. You had to keep reminding yourself that you were watching not only amateurs but a youth theatre. It is no exaggeration to say I have reviewed professional productions which fall well short of this standard.

True there was the odd verbal stumble on opening night but nothing worthy of mention and certainly nothing to detract from eight, confident, believable and engaging performances as we looked at four of the eight women featured in Brian McAvera's 2000 play – four more are running on alternate nights.

The original is eight stand alone monologues but this being Stage 2 it has been adapted into duologues as Picasso's life is examined through . . . some . . . of the women in his life – you suspect that even Stage 2 could not provide enough cast for a full sexual roll call. The man appears to make merely randy look like celibacy.

I suspect most people know little more than Pablo Picasso was Spanish and probably the most influential and famous artist of the 20th century. He co-founded cubism, lived in Paris, and if you find one of his paintings in your granny's attic you, your children, your children's children, your children's children's children and so on would never have to work again.

But as for his personal life? Probably about as well known as that of Rembrandt or Constable. So what do we glean from McAvera's story of Picasso though his turbulent relationships?

Well it seems that morality and fidelity among the artist set in France was . . . flexible; Picasso worked on the basis that all women in the world belonged to him and he just had to select any he wanted at any particular time with a similar attitude to relationships as a rutting stag.

As for his performance, well depending upon who you talked to, or in this case, who talked to you he could be tender and sensual or “he had a great time himself but wasn't interested in anyone else.”

Megan Santer gave an accomplished performance as the first of the eight women, Fernande Olivier, his first great love who had a colourful past of sexual assault and forced marriage before she became first an artist's  model and then Picasso's, and no one else's, model. She was his live in lover from 1904 to 1909. She is young, if hardly innocent, and tells her tale with her attentive lover played with boyish charm by Connor Fox.

She introduced Picasso to the most tragic of his many women, Eva Gouel who shared his life from 1910 to 1915, played convincingly by Elin Dowsett. Eva was dying of TB and was pushed around by her friend played by Abi Collier who could perhaps see though Picasso more than his lover.

Dowsett, with the pale make up of a white-faced clown, looks and sounds as if death is fast approaching, frail and vulnerable but we discover that behind what has become the tragic curtain call of her life have been scenes of scheming and manipulation to get the men and money she wants – including Picasso.

While Eva  is preparing to meet her maker Gaby Lesinasse appears on Picasso's radar. Gaby, an item from 1915 to 1917, is played with wonderful timing and fun by Charlie Reilly along with her wealthy American husband Herbert, played again for laughs and with a passable American accent by Rowan Turner-Powell - and how the production needed them.

After the angst of Fernande and the deathbed revelations of Eva the audience needed a bout of matter of fact plain speaking - and a few laughs - and the knock-about pair provided both in abundance.


Gaby is played as a sort of French equivalent of jolly hockey sticks who had the view that she was not going to be one of Pablo's sexual conquests – but, by Jove, he would be one of hers, what!

Picasso was smitten to the extent he showered her with paintings and a proposal of marriage but she was one of the few women to reject him and it was not until the 1980s that her brief relationship came to light. Her only regret was that she was known as Picasso's lost mistress rather than as Herbert's wife.

Which brought us to Olga Kokhlova, a dancer in Diaghilev's troupe when she met Picasso who was designing the set and costumes of a new ballet, Parade.

She was in his life from 1917 to 1927. The pair married and in 1921 Picasso's son Paulo was born but that was hardly enough to tie a sexual predator such as Picasso down to a life of pipe and slippers in front of a roaring easel.

The unstable Olga, played with a manic intensity by Emily Nabney with her son played by Luca Hoffman, finally left Picasso in 1935 but remained married leaving Paulo as the only legitimate offspring.

Nabney shows us a woman who feels betrayed, angry and cheated while her son, who shows some nice humorous touches, is frightened of his domineering father. When the relationship ended Picasso painted Olga in a brutal vicious way and perhaps took out his anger in what became open warfare rather than a relationship on Paulo who was always put down and treated like a menial servant rather than a son. He eventually became an alcoholic.

The set is simple with a backdrop of Picasso paintings associated with the women. The costumes look authentic for the period and the direction by Liz Light, with little in the way of props to work with, brings each character to vibrant life in what is a piece of top notch theatre with raw emotions and real passion.

Picasso's Women Part 1 is on again on Thursday 19 January 2012 and Saturday 21 January while Picasso's Women Part 2 is on Wednesday 18 January, Friday 20 January and Saturday 21 January. The running time, including 20 minute interval, is approximately 2h 30m.

Roger Clarke 

Great art, pity about the man

Picasso's Women Part 2

Stage 2

The Crescent Studio


IF ANYONE harboured any lingering doubts that Picasso was probably not a suitable candidate for beatification then part two of his life through the eyes of his lovers should dispel them.

He appears to have had an ego bigger than his fame, treated all women, even those he hadn't met,  as personal possessions, thought of little else but himself and was probably one of the most influential figures in the history of art, which is not a redeeming feature merely one that gave something rather than just took.

This is the second half of the artist's life from middle age to death though the eyes of the final four great loves, or at least lusts, of his life chronicled in Brian McAvera's original eight monologues.

As in the first half Stage 2, under the direction of Liz Light, have taken a character mentioned in the monologue narrative and expanded it into a second part which has the dual advantage of providing roles for twice the number of actors and creates added interest for both cast and audience with verbal sparring, quips and asides.

Mind you it does mean everyone has to be on the ball and it is a tribute to the hard work that must have gone  that the ball was kept very much in the air in each of the four shades of this particular palette - eight if Part 1 is included.

In Part 1 we discovered that Pablo was none too keen on his son Paulo, but perhaps that was because of the disintegration of the relationship with the boy's mother, and Picasso's first wife, Olga.

In Part 2 we discover that Picasso does in fact show a great deal of interest in children - but not, unfortunately, in his own.

His interest is in children who are young, nubile and in the case of Marie-Thérèse Walter, “pneumatic”.

Played by Sasha Butler, she was 17 when he first seduced her in 1927 and she knew nothing of art, or anything really, and did not even know who he was.

Butler gives us a sort of French Eliza Doolittle, all Cockney and common sense, bright as a button without an intellectual thought in her pretty head, but enough charm, mostly physical, to make an old, or at least much older man very happy. Picasso was 48 at the time.

She fathered his daughter Maya and held out the vain hope Picasso would eventually marry her. He never did and she hanged herself four years after his death in one of the most dramatic scenes if all eight duologues.

Marie-Thérèse was encouraged by her mother, a sort of Hyacinth Bucket character in the hands of Flo Cathcart, who could see, if not exactly an ideal relationship, at least a man with money, influence and a chance of some sort of immortality in his paintings.

The teenager came along while he was still living with wife Olga and the next one, Dora Marr was in the frame while Marie-Thérèse was caring for new born Maya.

Marr, who was sterile, was a celebrated artist and photographer in her own right so was Picasso's equal in many ways when their affair officially started in 1936 to last until 1945.

She was also older, by his standards, being 29 to his 54. The relationship was tumultuous; she suffered mood swings and was treated by Picasso's friend psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Picasso eventually had her committed to an asylum where she suffered brutal electric shock treatment which destroyed her mind and her spirit. Nice man.

She was one of two of Picasso's eight significant women to go mad - Olga became delusional -and in Chloe Jones we can feel Dora's anguish and pain in a stunning performance ably matched by the nurse, played by Rosalyne Norford, who takes a fair old battering from the violent Dora, who, in turn, receives a remarkably realistic slap for her pains at the end of one particularly harrowing episode.

If anyone needs an Ophelia quickly Chloe plays a quite remarkable mad woman. A memorable performance. 

Not surprisingly for a philanderer who saw hedonism as his religion, while Dora was being plugged in to the Parisian mains Pablo had moved on to painter Françoise Gilot, played with girlish charm by Rosa Simonet, who met Picasso with her artist friend Genevieve, played by Sarah Kemp.

The pair started like giggling schoolgirls with a secret to tell growing into women telling a story with, as with all Picasso's  relationships,  a more tragic edge.

The affair started around in 1943 although she was not officially his lover until 1945. It was the final straw for Dora who suffered a complete mental breakdown.

Picasso managed to stride though the war as if it did not concern him, treating everyone, French or German with equal disdain, using those who could be helpful and discarding those who couldn't, much as he treated his women.

It was to his shame that he refused to use his extensive contacts with both the German and French authorities to save his friend, artist and writer Max Jacob who died on his way to a concentration camp.


His relationship with Françoise, 21 to his 63, was on more equal terms then many in that she stood up for herself and even walked out on him with her dignity more or less intact. She bore him Claude and Paloma before leaving - a departure which devastated Picasso. She rubbed salt in that wound by marrying another artist.

Picasso had his revenge though. He used his influence to ensure neither she nor her artist husband would ever sell or exhibit a painting in any meaningful way in France again  - but the sanctions would be lifted if she was to divorce her husband and marry him.

This was 1953 and Françoise filed the papers for divorce only to discover that Picasso had deceived her. He had already secretly married his last great love Jacqueline Roque, who was 34, a month earlier. Françoise perhaps had the last laugh though. She is the sole survivor. She has published books about her life with Picasso, later married US vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk and still paints and exhibits in New York and Paris.

Jacqueline, played by Helen Carter, was a sales assistant in the Madoura Pottery Studio in Vallauris, where Picasso created his ceramics and Carter gave us an insecure, possessive woman who gloried in the important visitors to Picasso's home – more impressed with Gary Cooper than she was with her husband – but she would not let anyone get too near the aging artist, protecting her prize and fighting a constant running battle with Françoise and his own children.

She banished her own daughter to boarding school, irreparably damaging that relationship, devoting herself to Picasso.

She refused to allow his children to even come to his funeral and tried to control every aspect of the artist's life while submitting herself to any indignity and ill treatment the octogenarian Picasso dished out.

She was with him when he died in 1973, aged 91, refusing to believe he was dead and climbing into bed with him to keep him warm. She killed herself with a gun thirteen years later, the second suicide of Picasso's women.

As with Part 1 the costumes all look authentic for the period as we move from the 1920s to the 1970s and in the black box staging of the studio each character stands out like a colourful beacon helped by some very skillful, simple but effective lighting.

It might be a little long for studio seating, 2h 30m part 1 and 2h 15m part 2 but there is no denying the quality of  a collection of  remarkable performances in a talented production which is at times quite brilliant and deserving of a wider audience.

Roger Clarke

Picasso's Women Part 1 is on again on Thursday 19 January 2012 and Saturday 21 January while Picasso's Women Part 2 is on Friday 20 January and Saturday 21 January. The running time, including 20 minute interval, is approximately 2h 30m

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