Review: Picasso at the Lapin Agile – Workshop Theatre, Wollongong (NSW)

Directed by Feargus Manning & Amy Bauder, written by Steve Martin, stage design by Pat Grant

Wollongong’s Workshop Theatre presents Steve Martin’s (yep, that Steve Martin) first stage play and what he presents is exactly in his style of thought provoking, somewhat non-sensical and intellectual brand of comedy.
So the question entering the show you need to ask yourself is, what style of conversations would arise when you put the likes of Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso in a room and let them loose?

Steve Martin has been a name in the world of comedy ever since his time on NBC’s Saturday Night Live and here we get to see him flex his theatrical muscles through the power of the pen. He asks us, what were some of the most historical figures like before anybody knew who they were? Was art or science the most influential movement in the 20th century? And he even presents us with jokes that may just have no answer at all.
Set in Paris in the 1904 in the bar the Lapin Agile, we are met with an array of characters from the bartender Freddy (Alexander Curr), French stereotype Gaston (Eric Alexander), Freddy’s wife Germaine (Isobel Foye), the quirky Albert Einstein (Bradley Ward), Picasso’s woman scorned Suzanne (Kaylee Ashton), art collector Sagot (Caz Prescott), Picasso himself (Tony Barea), 20th century entrepeneur Schmendiman (Arthur Gallagher), a surprise and highly recognisable “visitor” (Daniel Stefanovski) as well as supporting cast the Countess (Shane Moon) and the female admirer (Dimity Quinlan-Merz).

Directors Feargus Manning and Amy Bauder cast their show perfectly and give each actor room to delve into these real life characters in a fictional setting. The standout character was Bradley Ward as Albert Einstein, in the scenes where energy lagged and dialogue sagged, Ward’s energy and domineering voice for the small workshop space chewed into the scenery itself and he gave Einstein life to even his most neurotic sensibilities; one particular scene sees him lose control over the disapproval of a maths equation.

As Picasso, Tony Barea brought life to Picasso’s womaniser attitude and utmost confidence in himself (until met with the name Matisse that is) and his artistic skills. Yet he was also a man that had no sense of direction of where he was going and also clueless as to the place he would take in the 20th century. The writing around Picasso was aimed at his infamous Blue Period and I feel this could have been played upon more in the direction of the character in order to make his transformation into his Rose Period more poignant.

A special mention must also be made for the set design and animation of Pat Grant which was perfectly stylised for the show itself and had hints of a Picasso-esque style to it.

Of course as the play points out, good things comes in threes like a triangle and Daniel Stefanovski delievered as *SPOILERS* the original sex idol himself, Elvis Presley. In the play’s most surreal scene, Stefanovski portrayed Presley perfectly, using his southern drawl and country boy attitude to juxtapose the artist and scientist duelling it out in the scene. It was a nice touch by Martin to have this King himself show that science and art was outshined by music and entertainment.
It was an odd directorial choice to have Elvis Presley as the only one with an accent and the rest with an Australian accent. Not that Stefanovski’s accent was off, it was suited to the character but stood out against the rest of the cast. I would have liked to have heard Picasso with his Spanish womanizing voice or Einstein with a slightly Austrian speech.

Under the Stage Management of Dimity Quinlan-Merz the show was run smoothly, if only the cast as an ensemble lifted the energy and projection, especially in such a small space as the workshop, it becomes noticeable. This would have made the bouncing energy of characters such as Arhur Gallagher’s Schmendiman even more hilarious in the grand scheme of the show itself.
A special mention must also be made for the set design and animation of Pat Grant which was perfectly stylised for the show itself and had hints of a Picasso-esque style to it.

So if you’re in for a night of thought provoking theatre that is something different led by quirky characterisations of some of the most historical figures of the 20th century, then take a trip to the Lapin Agile for the evening.

Stin’s Final Thought: I’d like to think what other figures match to the early centuries figures of Einstein, Picasso and Presley…who would it be? Rowling? Jobs? Hawkins?

Picasso at the Lapin Agile is now playing at Wollongong’s Workshop Theatre until 30th November. Tickets and information are in the link below.

https://www.wollongongworkshoptheatre.com.au/

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