Picasso is Coming...Ce Soir (Pentameters Theatre, Hampstead)
Run Extended until 22nd June
One man play
Starring Peter Gerald
as Jules Pascin
Written by Barry Fantoni / Directed by Rafe Beckley and Peter Gerald
Based on the life of artist Julius Mordecai Pincas, (March 31, 1885 – June 5, 1930), known as “Pascin” or “The Prince of Montparnasse”
Running until 22nd June
(Value Theatre) Tickets £12 / Concessions £10
(Review by Fiona Lister)
Peter Gerald gives an award-winning performance as the hedonistic Bulgarian-Jewish artist Jules Pascin, in Barry Fantoni’s cleverly written hour long play ‘Picasso is Coming…Ce Soir’. Don’t miss this vivid window into the artist’s bawdy bohemian life in Montparnasse during the 1920s/1930s jazz era, showing at the Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead. Jules Pascin or “The Prince of Montparnasse” as he was known, invites theatregoers into his studio every night this week at 8:00 p.m. for fine wines (yes, really) and there's Absinthe. Alas, you only have until 15th June to join the engaging raconteur’s party circus…
Produced by Peter Gerald, PD Productions with Pentameters, the theatre’s founder Léonie Scott-Matthews continues championing bold, captivating new writing. The Pentameters Theatre is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year and what better way to celebrate than by inviting Jules Pascin to throw nightly bohemian parties. The entire production team has pulled out all the stops to give this fascintating play as much historical authenticity as possible. Staging Picasso is Coming…Ce Soir in a theatre with 45 years worth of history is perfect. The theatre contains an Aladdin’s cave of curios and objects d’art dotted all over the walls and surrounding furniture. Paintings, a pink doll’s house, a monkey toy and artwork are some of the objects lacing the room and the walls have been freshly painted black, thanks to Godfrey Old, to make the artist’s studio as dramatic as possible. The experience is like walking into a haunting, dream-like funfair. Picasso I’m sure would love this! Congratulations to the team on set design and artwork.
Theatregoers are arriving in style to sample a taste of Pentameter magic; new writing that isn’t formulaic and reaches beyond the status quo to give audiences a revealing biographical snapshot, warts and all. Barry Fantoni’s slick intelligent script cleverly captures the man behind the lavish parties, perfectly depicting Jules Pascin as a witty bon viveur who’s haunted by depression and demons: a horrifying, miserable childhood, and an all consuming muddled love of alcohol, women and art.
The party begins and audiences are slowly drawn deeper into a psychological merry-go-round. Fantoni, a talented Italian-Jewish comic strip cartoonist and jazz musician has written a moment in art history that was less French chic and more a politically troubled and poverty-stricken era. Fascist groups plagued the streets of France despite efforts by the Front Populaire to fight fascism and the 1930s became perilous and uncertain for the Jewish community with the approaching Second World War. Despite living in precarious times, the artistic movement was thriving with the advent of modern art represented by Cezanne, Duchamp and Picasso. Surrealism and Cubism began blooming and jazz clubs sprang up all over Paris. Fantoni has worked some of this detail into Pascin’s dialogue, concentrating on boldness and colour, not subtlety. He has done so without losing the spirit of his character’s humour and wit. Actor Peter Gerald translates Fantoni’s work perfectly onto the stage in this intense fast-faced one man show.
Peter Gerald morphs straight into the character of the 1920s wild party-going artist and invites audiences to take part in his wine-fuelled world of hedonistic soirées, art and pain. Theatregoers first catch sight of him wearing a bowler hat, slumped fast asleep and snoring in an armchair. The heady sound of jazz accompanies the snoring and songs like “Oh how I love Bulgaria!” in tribute to Pascin’s heritage ring out from the nearby wireless. Joel Anderson gauges just the right level of sound, and the Rafe Beckley's lighting in superb in keeping with the dimly lit, dingy artist’s studio.
Bottles of wine are dotted all over the table next to Pascin. When he abruptly wakes from his nap he springs to his feet and like a party animal pulls out all the wine corks with his teeth. Gerald pours red wine haphazardly everywhere – all over the table and into the paint-splattered jam jars usually reserved for washing watercolour brushes. Gerald painted these jam jars himself in his garden. Pascin is the perfect host and rushes around the audience welcoming everyone with a drink. Cue audiences shrinking back into their seats with a mixture of laughter and worry – will he make you jump to your feet and dance or does he have another trick up his sleeve? Horrors! Either way, it’s unnerving…but even when you are seated towards the back there’s no escape and the jam jar is presented! Gerald manages to grab his audiences’ attention from the start, speaks in a French accent throughout, masters the French language and holds everyone’s attention for a solid hour in what is a very high energy production…and he does sing and dance, but there are no jazz hands.
Watch out for the Absinthe scene and be careful if Pascin offers you a glass of the powerful green stuff, mixed with water from a bizarre source. Don’t try the Absinthe pouring at home without a steady hand. The old wireless is used in a most interesting way – again Peter Gerald fashioned this himself, but you will need to see the show to understand its use; a great idea for a vintage home feature.
Gerald pulls masks from a trunk to enact the roles of Pascin’s legal wife Hermine Lionette Cartan David who was also a painter, and his “illegal wife” Cecile (Lucy) Vidil Krohg. Pascin’s line: “Masks have a life of their own,” could not be more spot on. This is one of the most effective ways of presenting another character I’ve seen and it’s sinister but believable. Brilliant. The only mask that did scare me was an African warrior’s mask but you’ll need to see the show to find out why.
‘Picasso is Coming…Ce Soir’ is a production that shows promise of a much longer run in a West End theatre, but in order for a longer run it would be great to see a second monologue, perhaps one written for Lucy or Hermine. Either way, this is sharp, exceptional theatre and should be seen. ‘Picasso is Coming…Ce Soir’ is hugely entertaining, thought-provoking and captures the senses. Lovers of Emile Zola will completely embrace the treatment of this production. Peter Gerald’s Jules Pascin is just like the lively characters depicted in Zola’s boozy drinking dens in ‘L’Assomoir’ and ‘Nana’. Similar to Zola, Barry Fantoni adds lashings of humour but never ignores the heart. Let’s just hope the Gerald/Fantoni partnership brings Jules Pascin to a wider audience …and soon.
Peter Gerald is a phenomenal character actor who has appeared in a string of shows including in the role of Thénardier in Les Misérables (Palace Theatre); Jesus in Godspell (National Tour); Graziano in the Merchant of Venice; Bobby in Dreamboats and Petticoats (National Tour) and more recently Peter starred in the lead role of Tom in The Thing About Men at the Landor Theatre last year. Look out for him in psychological thriller, the film Lurk due for release later this year.
Gerald executes the role of Jules Pascin with unwavering attention to detail and fierce intensity, adding his own risqué flavour and throwaway quips to the fore. Five stars based on exciting new writing and exceptional acting. Join the party!
Picasso is Coming…Ce Soir must end on 22nd June. Tickets can be purchased from the box office by calling: 020 7435 3648
Tickets: £12 Concessions £10
Pentameters Theatre: above The Horseshoe pub, entrance in Oriel Place, 28 Heath Street, London, NW3 6TE. (Directions: Nearest Tube – Hampstead)