Picasso's Women

Given how many inhabited his life, Picasso’s Women is but a mere glimpse from one side of the bed into what they endured. The great artist once observed, ‘There are two types of women - goddesses and doormats’. This trilogy of monologues by Brian McAvera provides evidence from just three women of how Picasso could both exalt and abuse those who fell under his spell.

Packed with revelations and moving stories

Born to unmarried parents, raised by her aunt and uncle who tried to force her into marriage, Fernande (Judith Paris) ran away from home and fell into the arms of another man. Aged 19 she forsook that abusive relationship without a divorce and became a model in Paris where she encountered Picasso long before he became famous. Unable to marry they cohabited for seven tumultuous years. Once ditched she had only memories to live on but twenty years later to Picasso's fury she published them as memoirs. In her retelling Paris gives a sincere and anguished performance recalling some happy times but mostly reflecting with sadness how she was trodden down and abandoned.

The Ukrainian Olga Khokhlova (Colette Redgrave) was made of sterner stuff.

At home in French society Olga mixed confidently with the great names of the day, having performed with Diaghilev. She had a spectacular wedding ceremony in the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and all went reasonably well until she became pregnant. Picasso lost interest and found a young replacement. Redgrave dominates from the moment she strides into the room, her upright posture, sweeping movements and powerful voice providing a new pace and energy to the production that entirely befits Olga.

Marie-Therese (Kirsten Moore) enters to a look from Redgrave that says it all to the little usurper. Moore provides yet another fascinating contrast. As the brains of Olga leave the room the not so bright Marie-Therese takes up the strain. Only seventeen when the forty-five year old Picasso picked her up Moore gives the performance of young girl caught up in a web that her innocence fails to comprehend. Her days too inevitably ended when the next woman came along

The large gallery of the Fruitmarket is a mixed blessing in Marcia Carr’s production. The setting is clearly appropriate but the current exhibition is unrelated while the choice of coloured projections on the back wall create mood changes they look like works form Rothko. The cavernous room lacks the intimacy and privacy from which these confessions could benefit. Redgrave’s voice resonates in the hollow chamber and she is able to parade in style making large gestures with her fans. Moore also uses the space to constantly reposition her chair and flit around like a child in a playroom but Paris derives no benefit from either the acoustic or the open space. Her elderly, more frail and arthritic Fernande needs the comfort and coziness of a sitting room.

The play is packed with revelations and moving stories told through distinctive yet complementary performances from three mistresses of the monologue that make for a delightful insight into the world of Picasso, for whom ultimately perhaps the only goddesses he had were on his canvases.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

Picasso's Women, by Brian McAvera, is a unique look at the great painter’s early life through the voices of his wives, mistresses and muses. These three honest and humorous monologues were originally produced at the National Theatre and on BBC Radio 3. The unique stories of French model Fernande, Russian ballerina Olga and 17-year-old mistress Marie-Thérèse give an insight into life with Picasso and the influence the women had on his art. Set in a contemporary art space this modern setting points a spotlight on these women through the lens of 21st-century values.

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