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Picasso review at the Playground Theatre, London – ‘wincingly misjudged’

Alejandra Costa, Claire Bowman, Peter Tate and Adele Oni in Picasso at the Playground Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton

There are misjudged artistic decisions and then there’s this. The inaugural production of Latimer Road’s new Playground Theatre is an outrageously sexist, wincingly ill-conceived examination of Picasso and his infamously tumultuous love life.

The late Terry d’Alfonso’s fluid, four-handed play attempts to put the Cubist master under the microscope by staging a free-flowing series of conversations between him and the women in his life. It actually ends up idolising him, and his appalling treatment of women, in a messy mishmash of pretentious artistic cliches, one-dimensional female characters, and hilariously self-aggrandising dialogue. It would be funny if it wasn’t so offensive.

Klara Zieglerova’s bold design – a circle of sand, backed by an enormous cinema screen – and Davy Cunningham’s vivid lighting are the only praiseworthy aspects of Michael Hunt’s production. Adele Oni, Claire Bowman and Alejandra Costa are vibrant and vivacious as three of Picasso’s devoted muses, but they’re saddled with criminally subservient roles. Peter Tate’s Picasso is just absurd, with the irresistible sexuality of a paintbrush.

Dramatic examinations of art and artists can be supremely powerful pieces of theatre – Howard Barker’s Scenes From an Execution, John Logan’s Red, Yasmina Reza’s Art, Alan Bennett’s Single Spies. Picasso is nothing of the sort. Instead of interrogating Picasso, it aggrandises him. Instead of deconstructing his myth, it celebrates it, adultery, misogyny and all.

A new theatre is always something to cheer, and Anthony Biggs’ Playground is no different. But why open with such an awkward, unnecessary stinker?


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London's newest theatre opens with a wincingly ill-judged examination of the artist and his notoriously tumultuous love life