originally published on FringeReview
Venue: Camden People's Theatre
Festival: Camden Fringe
Shining a spotlight on the life of Dora Maar and her relationship with Pablo Picasso, ‘MUSE’ is written and directed by Antonia Georgieva. It utilises elements of physical theatre, monologue, devising and original music composed by Timna Lugstein.
While everyone has heard of Pablo Picasso, the same cannot be said about any of his muses. One of whom was Dora Maar, a great photographer who became Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’. This production aims to show us to what end Maar earned that place in the halls of art history. Much like Maar and Picasso’s lives, art and relationship, this piece is surreal.
‘MUSE’ tackles the life of a very important woman that is mostly unknown or forgotten outside the world of fine and applied arts. It is a big challenge to take on for a one-hour play, but it seems that Georgieva took the best possible approach with it. The poetic and surreal structure and direction of the piece makes it easy to follow, presenting us with the most important moments of the story. As a result we remain interested, fascinated and entertained throughout.
The staging is minimal with chairs on one side for the ensemble to always remain on stage. Only a few props and a long white sheet are used effectively and keep the scenes simple. Even so most transitions were not as smooth as they could have been, with actors having to squeeze between each other or between moving set etc. The reason for that seems to be that the staging ignored the restrictions a small black box stage comes with and as a result the transitions suffered.
In fact, all of the issues with this production were technical. In the beginning there is a moment when the music is too loud while Dora (Denitza Zafirova) makes her first appearance with a monologue, making it hard to hear her. In other moments Dora is too far downstage on the floor and we can barely see her. There were times that actors were not lit properly and a fight sequence between Dora and Francçoise Gilot (Sarah Kentish) was completely unpolished and ruined an otherwise excellent scene.
Although the budget and potential time restrictions do not excuse these technical issues, there were more important things that were absolutely excellent, which made the overall experience great. The physical sequences are really beautifully staged and the ensemble does an amazing job with them. Especially with the bombarding of Guernica, depicted in the dark with flashlights behind the white sheet and very committed performances by everyone. Another great moment is the ensemble keeping away Dora, who is desperately trying to reach Picasso (Jahmai Maasai).
The performances are what really lift this piece. Everyone is committed to their characters one hundred per cent and the casting is good too. Zafirova is brilliant in her portrayal of Dora Maar and Kentish’s portrayals of both Marie-Therese and Francoise Gilot are wonderful. Zoe Lambrakis, Harry Kingscott, Claire-Monique Martin and Jahmai Maasai are all excellent too in all of their roles. Maasai perhaps had the toughest challenge, playing the man everyone in the audience would recognise. His portrayal does seem to accent the negatives of Picasso – an arrogant, yet charming womaniser. But given that this surreal piece is about Maar, this is a good and appropriate interpretation of Picasso through her eyes.
Overall this could have been an excellent piece that unfortunately suffered by a few too many technical issues. However, it has a lot of potential and the actors did a fantastic job carrying the story through, doing justice to Georgieva’s well-written piece. The concept is lovely and it gives visibility to many great women, from Maar to Lise Deharme, Francoise Gilot and Nusch Eluard. And ultimately the production was of a good standard, enjoyable, educative and did provoke some thinking – well done.
This piece was originally published on August 26, 2019 by FringeReview.