Muse at the Camden People’s Theatre

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Written and directed by Antonia Georgieva, Aslant Theatre Company’s Muse is an intelligent and thought-provoking new play about the life of Dora Maar.

Muse has the lingering feel of a Greek tragedy. We open at the end, as Dora Maar’s possessions are being catalogued, before being led back to her first meeting with Picasso by our Greek chorus.

Denitza Zafirova is a convincing Dora, never more so than when we meet her at the beginning, defiant and unafraid to challenge Picasso about the validity of photography as an art form.  Her strength and spirit, undoubtedly the elements that first attracted Picasso to her, are the very things we watch her sacrifice as their relationship unravels.

However, the emotional centre of the play for me is Sarah Kentish’s Marie-Therese. The woman Picasso abandons for Dora.  The woman who was prepared to fight Dora for him as he looked passively on.  Her warnings to Dora to escape Picasso while she can add a sense of prophecy to the piece.

A scene bringing to life the battle of Guernica has great power, transporting us to the 1937 bombing of the Basque town with the clever and effective use of a minimalist set, sound and lighting.

Picasso, played with a great impassivity by Jahmai Massai, seems unable to stop sucking the women in his life dry before moving on. And while it is hard not to judge Picasso for the way he treats women as disposable muses, there is a real sense of Dora’s agency within the story, and her realisation that she allowed herself to be used.

With a talented cast of 6 and the very clever use of a small space, Antonia Georgieva succeeds in telling a story that feels both epic and personal.

Muse runs at the Camden People’s Theatre until 25th August. It is well worth catching even if, like me, you know relatively little about the life of Dora Maar. I now feel much more prepared for the retrospective of her work coming to the Tate Modern later this year.

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