Muse – Camden People’s Theatre, London

Writer/Director: Antonia Georgieva

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

The relationship between an artist and his muse – always “his” muse, the power dynamic historically being a very gendered one – was in the 20thcentury nowhere more apparent than with Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar.

Maar’s relationship with the painter spanned over a decade, and overlapped with some of Picasso’s other lovers. A dramatised version of their relationship forms the backbone of Antonia Georgieva’s Muse. As befits a tale involving a surrealist artist and the woman who, whenever he painted her, would often be portrayed in tears, the play is neither straightforward nor particularly jolly.

Denitza Zafirova’s Dora is a slight thing at first, almost as if she never quite comes into focus until Pablo sees her for the first time. Jahmai Maasai, meanwhile, is a tall, softly spoken Picasso. Never quite the physically aggressive monster that biographies suggest he may have been behind closed doors, his cruelty towards both Dora and, especially, his then girlfriend Marie-Thérèse Walter is more psychological, rooted in disinterest in either of them as human beings and more as models, clay to be moulded.

But in truth, while the central story is the core of Zafirova’s play – helped as it is by sterling performances from Sarah Kentish as Marie-Thérèse and Zoë Lambrakis as Dora’s friend, photography subject and fellow Surrealist, Lise Deharme – the most intriguing aspect of Museis the confidence and adeptness of its storytelling.

Around the central couple, the remaining four actors revolve as a Greek chorus, and certain scenes will play out as shadow play (a remarkably evocative sequence echoing the Guernica massacre) or flashes of physical theatre. Mandy Gordon’s movement work blends in well with the rest of Georgieva’s direction, and if there is any hesitancy in the execution it is easily forgivable.

The result is a piece that ponders – muses, if you will – on what it means to be an artist when all the world sees you as someone else’s art. As in Dora Maar’s life, there are no easy answers, no satisfying endings. But it is nice, at least, to glimpse the human being behind Picasso’s Weeping Woman.

Continues until 25 August 2019 | Image: Contributed

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