10 Sep

About Leo
BY Alice Allemano
At Jermyn Street Theatre

Leonora Carrington is probably one of the best known artists in Mexico, but very little of her was known in England, the country of her birth. Alice Allemano discovered her at Tate Liverpool in a retrospective exhibition and was impressed by the volume of her work
Born and brought up in a respectable middle class family in Lancashire, She was disowned by her father when she eloped with a married man. He was Max Ernst the surrealist painter. Surrealism was not considered proper art at the time, almost pornographic, but Leonora was fascinated by it.
No time is given but it would be around 2010. A young girl arrives at Leo’s house in Mexico wanting to find out more about her life with Max Ernst.. The girl is Eliza Prentice, a would be journalist fascinated by the life of this relatively unknown woman only known to art aficionados as the girl who was the muse for Max Ernst. Something she vehemently denies. Susan Tracey gives an impeccable performance as the older Leo. She is occasionally irascible, but always retains the inner warmth and spirit of her rebellious nature.
The play is set in two time frames, the visit to Mexico of Eliza (played with a kind of excited innocence by Eleanor Wild) and the late nineteen thirties when Max and Leo were living together.
The set is clever with two areas, the main stage representing Leo’s kitchen for the scenes with the older Leo and Eliza and a raised platform which is sometimes shrouded but when the curtain is drawn, we see all is scarlet, even the scarlet dress of the young Leo for the nineteen thirties love scenes.
Here the two lovers played by Phoebe Pryce as the young Leo and Nigel Whitmey as the very attractive Max Ernst show the true love they had for each other, their squabbles and their passion. Their happiness was interrupted by the beginning of the second world war. Max was arrested by the police and was taken away from her. She went into depression and her father tried to get her into an insane asylum, but she made her getaway and fled to Mexico. Her arrival in Mexico brought her marriage and children but never interfered with her freedom and she always remained her own person.
This play is part of the Rebel season at the Jermyn Street Theatre. It is the author’s first play and it tells a fascinating story, but I felt ninety minutes without an interval was a little demanding. Like Leonora, I too would have welcomed a little escape.
The actors are all vibrant individuals and play their roles with integrity. The direction is by Michael Oakley. Maybe rather too long, but a great story well told and well played. And true to the Theatre’s task of illuminating characters who never give in to convention..

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