The Upcoming Review: Camden Fringe 2019: Muse at Camden People’s Theatre

Updated: Sep 24, 2019

by Musanna Ahmed

originally published on The Upcoming

Pablo Picasso infamously said that “there are only two types of women: goddesses and doormats”. Muse grills the legend of the artist by sharply probing his relationship with women in a rich character study of photographer Dora Maar, his muse most famously depicted in the painting The Weeping Woman.

As Pablo, charmingly played by Jahmai Maasai, implies at one point, there’s no greater purpose for him in life than art. For him, the women around him – including his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter – are amazing because they inspire his art. This theatre piece looks beyond the periphery of the legendary master to focus on the women and question why we love the work of an artist who exploited pain for his passion.

Denitza Zafirova is riveting as Dora Maar, rendering her into a complex women who – as Picasso ignored – had a life of her own, a keenness for photography that was challenged by Pablo for being an inferior art form. Muse implies she maintained her sense of self-worth even after the trial of being glorified and dehumanised, as pointedly highlighted in her response to his death. A scene involving psychiatry feels a little too much of a metatextual attempt at understanding her.

There are six players on stage here, Zafirova and Maasai getting the most time in, who all appear like paintings when they freeze in tableaux during intercutting scenes.

Audiences who are (somehow) unacquainted with the painting in subject or Marie-Thérèse may need to do some reading beforehand to comfortably interpret the narrative of this reimagining, particularly because it threads the needle between lyrical abstractness (apropos to Marr’s surrealist work) and straightforward biographical storytelling. On the other hand, those who are familiar will have their time well rewarded in this brisk deconstruction of the Spanish painter as it meaningfully recontextualises his work with reference to the real lives he reduced to oil. It’s both a broad and subtle interrogation of Picasso.


Musanna Ahmed

Muse is at Camden People’s Theatre from 22nd until 25th August 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.

For further information about Camden Fringe 2019 visit the festival website here.

This piece was originally published on August 23, 2019 on The Upcoming.

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