Picasso Stole the Mona Lisa

Tue 20th – Sat 24th January 2015

reviews

Tara Lee

at 09:19 on 21st Jan 2015

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Picasso Stole the Mona Lisa is a delightfully silly play. If you’ve got an hour to spare at the end of a dull day, by all means watch it. I can’t guarantee you’d laugh out loud (I certainly didn’t, though that just be my sense of humour), but I’m sure you’d be sufficiently entertained.

As the play begins, it warns us that it is very, very loosely based on historical fact, looser than the loosest thing you can imagine. Hereon, the play keeps up its self-referential humour, which comes to a climax in a detective’s Freudian slip - ‘nothing makes sense in this play/case!’

The play opens with Guillaume Apollinaire, who aptly yet distractingly sports a drawn-on moustache, discovering the Mona Lisa in his apartment. Against Picasso’s smooth nonchalance, Guillaume’s frantic anxiousness is a tad irritating as the two, once their comic types have been settled, play out their reactions to the painting’s mysterious appearance more or less predictably until the end of the scene. After that, they try to get rid of the painting, only to draw the attention of two particularly inept members of the police, one of whom is even more irritating than Guillaume. As Guillaume exhausts his tiresome initial apprehension and surprise the play gains much-welcomed spontaneity without losing its sense of structure.

Much of the audience chuckled, guffawed, nay, roared with laughter throughout the play. There were jokes of every kind, from word play (usually so bad it’s good – watch out for the Monet pun) to physical humour (imagine, if you will, a man trying to stuff a painting into a suitcase half its size). The play revelled in silly European accents and plenty of slapstick, so the play is very much suitable for those who are intimidated or put off by the promise of esoteric art history jokes; in fact, they might enjoy it more as the play is not so much clever as farcical, though it does have some clever moments. Will Dalrymple’s impersonations of canonical early 20th Century authors were a treat, and I enjoyed the interrogations scene where Gertrude Stein’s work is used as a form of excruciating torture, as well as Guillaume railing against Cubism to infuriate Picasso – it was a mixture of homage and irreverent parody which, though doing nothing particularly new, was appreciated because the authors and artists themselves are rich in parodic potential.

The play was entertaining but rough around the edges. The parodying of silent film in the videos was a nice touch, but the execution could have been better. One wonders if the play could have benefited from better comic timing, or jokes that didn’t feel so familiar. The scuffles didn’t seem particularly choreographed, looking a little clumsy and amateurish, though the use of props in the chair fight and the pamplemousse scene made it farcical enough that it didn’t really matter. The actors made a few slips but overall it was a very decent production, even if it was not quite the masterpiece.

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