Picasso review – awe and horror in portrait of the artist as a minotaur

The Playground, London
Terry d’Alfonso’s study of the painter and his serial infidelities is staged on a circular sandpit at a smart new London theatre

Given the economic climate, it is encouraging to find new theatres opening. After the Bridge comes the Playground: a former bus depot and experimental studio, off Ladbroke Grove in west London, that has been turned into a handsome theatre at a cost of £270,000. It seats 200, has an excellent cafe and has already functioned as a counselling centre in the wake of the disaster at the nearby Grenfell Tower. Greatly as I welcome it, the opening show, mixing live action and film, turns out to be an elegantly staged curiosity about the relationship between Picasso and the women who were so crucial to his life and art.

The show was written by Terry d’Alfonso, an American film-maker and playwright who died in 2016, and you feel she was torn between awe at Picasso’s energy and horror at his use and abuse of women. Over the course of 70 minutes, the image that stays with you is of Picasso as the minotaur: a mixture of man and monster, with a bull’s head, who feeds off human flesh. He himself is given to oracular statements such as “I am a shaman.” Meanwhile, we see how three women, in particular, were captivated by Picasso while being sacrificed to his creative drive: the model Marie-Thérèse Walter, the poet Geneviève Laporte and the pottery-seller Jacqueline Roque all pay a high price for loving Picasso. On film we also see his first wife, the dancer Olga Khokhlova, being driven to despair at his serial infidelities.

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