Picasso – Playground Theatre, London

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Writer: Peter Tate

Director: Guy Masterson

Written in 2017, it nevertheless feels like this is a keenly appropriate time for a production of Picasso. The rumbling discourse over whether we could, or should, divorce art from artist grew louder as 2022 closed, though it remains, of course, unresolved.

Peter Tate’s hour-long work perhaps seeks to chart a middle ground, giving insight into how Pablo Picasso’s immense ego and rotten approach to women were a driving force in his creative process and resulted directly in a large portion of his work.

Tate himself is the show’s sole live performer, though he appears with others in filmed scenes projected throughout. He is the eponymous Picasso, posthumously intent on telling us all about his attitude to, and relationships with, women. We’re taken through his actions and his beliefs as they relate to his wife Olga, then a series of lovers and mistresses, mothers of his children, and muses.

It’s a fascinating portrait. Tate’s performance and script are deeply engaging, enthralling, and exciting. Picasso himself is shown as deeply dysfunctional when it comes to women – seeming to take pride in his destructive influence and has misogynistic ideas most recently seen in Andrew Tate’s dreadful oeuvre. His ego is a thing of wonder, the engine behind his art and his seductions. We hear “I have magic powers I do not understand,” “I am God,” and “I do capture the sun’s secret.” He truly believes his stylish drawings entitle him to, well, everything.

Tate inhabits this forceful belief wonderfully. Pacing around the small set and alternating rants with egotistical pronouncements and calm descriptions of what we’d now see as abusive behaviour. It’s riveting, awful.

Director Guy Masterson and Tate take care to build their story, rather than chase excitement prematurely. The restraint in the scripting is nurtured well by the pacing and direction, ensuring that by the time we get to the deeper revelations and surprises we have a rock-sure foundation of understanding of this character thanks to an information-laden first section.

Eirina Kariori’s simple set consists of a paint spattered groundsheet with a cushion, a ladder, and white gauze curtains. This encircles Picasso, forming a rippled and ethereal backdrop on which his emotions are mapped, and memories of the women he seduced and toyed with are projected via Steven Dean Moore’s video and lighting.

There’s no doubt Picasso can be credited with immense talent, for art and for promotion. This piece of theatre makes great strides in showing off two key sources of energy for that talent, making the case that they’re indivisible from the output. Whether an observer sees this as a positive or negative thing is not really the play’s business. It gives inspiring raw material for further personal reflection on this weighty question.

Runs until 4 February 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Engaging, enthralling, and exciting

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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