About Leo is the first offering in The Rebels Season at Jermyn Street Theatre; an autumn programme that focuses on ‘people who dared to be different’. It fits the bill perfectly and is quite simply a delightful play beautifully performed.
A delightful play beautifully performed.
Playwright Alice Allemano has created a well-crafted script about the English-born Mexican artist and writer Leonora Carrington inspired by her ‘incredible spirit, blurring facts with imagination, crossing time periods, and delving into two moments of a long and rich life’. The play gives insights into the characters of both Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst with whom she lived for many years in the 1930s. Although the material is not without its heavier moments she has ingeniously broken up the narrative with the addition of a fictional Eliza Prentice from the contrasting millennial age who teases out the story.
Prentice turns up unexpectedly at Carrington’s house in Mexico City late at night as a backpacker. Escaping the demands of her work, her friends and her mother she is on a mission to gain from the artist the one thing she doesn’t give: an interview by which she hopes to make a name for herself. She has as much to learn about life as she does about journalism. Throughout the apologetic frenzy of her arrival and inexperienced questioning, Carrington remains enchantingly unphased. Beneath that calm exterior the fiery woman of old who imagines herself as a horse from time to time emerges. She warms to the junior reporter and their chat in the downstage kitchen becomes the interview. As Carrington reminisces, her younger self with Max Ernst play out scenes in an elevated room upstage left. The action joins these locations into one as the play progresses.
Susan Tracy as the older Carrington gives a genteel performance of eloquent precision with acerbic interjections. Who would not want to listen to her story till the sun rose and still ask for more? The calm, reflective and often witty wisdom of a woman of the world is amusingly contrasted with the naive effervescent energy of a junior journalist. Eleanor Wyld bubbles with excitement and all the passion of a young woman who believes that this meeting is going to change her life. Surely it will. Wyld conveys with a sense of revelation that Prentice’s future will now be radically different in more ways than she could ever have imagined. She is under the spell of this remarkable woman.
Nigel Whitmey captures the intensity of a besotted lover wedded to his art and another woman. His possessive Ernst is a man frustrated by the rationalisation of emotion and theorising of the young Carrington. Phoebe Pryce in that role, despite having some of the most difficult text to convey, still stirs up the passion to throw herself at the man she adores.
Director Michael Oakley has kept this production simple, adding a hint of surrealism achieved through lighting devices from Amy Mae and moments of surprising costume from Emily Stuart. All this fits snugly into the set by Erika Paola Rodriguez Egas. Allemano makes her professional debut with this play but it will surely not be the last that flows from her engaging combination of research and imagination.