Picasso’s Women

By Brian McAvera

A shot from the production of Picasso’s Women
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There were nine women who influenced Pablo Picasso’s work; one was his mother – eight were his wives and lovers. This series of eight monologues looks at their personal stories. Two were presented to launch the new company at Madcap Theatre in October 2008 – Olga, his Russian first wife , a ballerina and tense woman, who helped launch his career, but completely abandoned by Picasso later in her life and Marie Therese, an easy going and voluptuous young woman who Picasso took as a mistress when she was only seventeen.

Reviewed at Madcap Theatre Wolverton on Thursday 9th October 2008

Picasso’s Women is presented by The Play’s The Thing Theatre Company whose credo is in their name. That is, the emphasis is on the play, using only a suggestion of costumes, set and props. This is the first production from this new professional theatre company and they are unique in Milton Keynes in that their aims, as listed in the programme, are: to produce challenging and thought-provoking work from the classical canon, to modern plays and work from new writers.

Picasso’s Women is a thought-provoking piece of theatre, which, in its entirety, is a series of eight monologues telling the stories of Pablo Picasso’s eight wives and lovers from their point of view. Two monologues have been selected for this production: Act One is the story from his first wife Olga; Act Two is the story from Marie–Therese (17 years old and hence illegal under French law) whom he lived with in a flat across the street from his marital home. It may well be that these two were selected because of the contrast between them. Olga is clearly disappointed with the relationship and with Picasso as a husband and lover, whilst Marie–Therese appears to be fulfilled and wanted no other man.

I thoroughly enjoyed both monologues which were performed to a high standard. Caroline Mann played Olga, Picasso’s wife, who bore his only legitimate son. Olga was clearly disappointed with their relationship and felt undervalued by him, both intellectually and as a woman. This was a powerful performance and effectively captures the character of a woman who has been described as intelligent and driven, but also as rigid, tyrannical, obsessive and possessive. Miss Mann’s characterisation included all of these traits and certainly displayed many of the more known aspects of Olga’s personality. Olga was a dancer who worked extensively in Europe with the top ballets and Miss Mann portrayed her as theatrical and dramatic.

Marie–Therese is played by Pam Ryder who gave an entirely different performance, and was a wonderful contrast to Olga, accentuating the physical aspect of a woman whose interests revolved around swimming, mountain climbing and gymnastics. She was a physical fitness fanatic and certainly during the time she appeared in Picasso’s paintings possessed a voluptuous figure. From this performance it is not difficult to imagine why Picasso was attracted to her. There is sensuality and fun in Miss Ryder’s portrayal and I felt like Marie-Therese was having a personal conversation with me. Unlike Olga, this character has a positive view of her relationship with Picasso and appears to have found it fulfilling. Miss Ryder gave Marie-Therese an almost silly, child-like personality – a total contrast to Olga.

I would recommend that you go and see this excellent production and I for one look forward to further work from this innovative new theatre company.

Sue Marks – on behalf of Catherine Brian for UK Theatre Network
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