BWW REVIEW: FRIDA KAHLO: VIVA LA VIDA Presents A Glimpse Into The Famous Artists World
Wednesday 24th April 2019, 7pm, Old 505 Theatre
The audience is given a glimpse of famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's world in the intimate one woman show, Frida Kahlo: VIVA LA VIDA. Mexican playwright Humberto Robles' work, adapted from Spanish by Gael Le Cornec and Luis Benkard and directed by Anna Jahjah, brings the complex painter, lover and political figure to life with playful expression from solo performer Kate Bookallil.
The premise of the work is that the audience are peering in on Frida Kahlo's preparations for Dia de Muertos, the Mexican holiday otherwise known as the Day of the Dead. With life long pain from childhood polio and a horrific accident at the age of 18, the artist persists in preparing a party for friends whilst giving the audience an insight into her passionate and volatile relationship with artist Diego Rivera, the older polygamous artist she referred to as her little frog. Continuously swigging tequila from the multiple bottles scattered around the room, taken for medicinal purposes to dull the pain of her literally screaming leg, she defiantly persists in sharing her memories, many of which are inspired by the trunk of sketches that she scatters across the floor. With the possibility that she knew her end was near, there is a maudlin undertone to the general optimism as she reflects on her life's high and low points as well as expressing her strong personality.
The audience is greeted by the sight of Frida laid out on the bed with a black death mask providing a contrast to the simple cotton garments and a skeleton sits in a wheelchair. The stairs to the audience are lined with papier mache skulls and candles giving the work an immersive feel. This is further felt as Bookallil's Kahlo interacts with the audience throughout the work, particularly those in the front row.
Kahlo was an incredibly complex woman and condensing her life into 55 minutes naturally only skims the surface. Bookallil refrains from trying to adopt a Spanish accent but her expression of the other people in Kahlo's world is done with imitations, of note her pretentious French for surrealist artist Andre Breton is delightfully comical. She balances Kahlo's disability with a capriciousness of mind as she bounces between worshiping the pastel drawing of Rivera, a piece representing a study for her 1931 painting Frieda + Diego Rivera and she utilizes a similar brown paper study of the 1944 The Broken Column to help illustrate her injuries as well as expressing her comfort with her sexuality. Kahlo's political persuasions and her early life are the least explore element of her life with only small references to her communist affiliations and her role in gaining asylum for Leon Trostsky.
Frida Kahlo: VIVA LA VIDA is a delightful taste of the acclaimed artist that, whilst not necessarily giving any great insight, may prompt people to seek out more of Kahlo's story.