La Casa Azul

by Sophie Faucher

Lyric, Hammersmith

(2002)

Review by Philip Fisher

Any appearance by Ex Machina, Robert Lepage's French Canadian theatre company is big news. Lepage, like Robert Wilson who was recently in London, is one of the great, innovative contemporary theatre directors.

Neil Bartlett, the artistic director at the Lyric Hammersmith, who also translated this piece, has scored a great coup in attracting La Casa Azul to the theatre. It is a very attractive production that is currently touring widely.

It tells the story of the artist Frida Kahlo, played by writer Sophie Faucher, and her lover (and once the love had worn off, husband), Diego Rivera (Patric Saucier). This couple were prominent in the artistic and political world of the first half of the last century.

Their relationship was often fiery with the flames fuelled by the big bear, Rivera's unquenchable need for women. The crunch came when he bedded Kahlo's sister, Christina. In a very clever image, the sisters are seen linked together and Rivera's switch between them is symbolised by the exchange of a dress.

Lepage's production is littered with such clever images, the most memorable of which involve death. Trotsky lived with the couple in Mexico and after becoming Kahlo's lover; his meeting with an icepick is depicted using a small skull with a red gash on its head.

Kahlo spent her adult life as a cripple following a bus crash. She is pursued by death who takes physical form played by Lise Roy (as is Trotsky and all of the other supporting characters). The play ends as the heroine meets her death on the night of an exhibition that marks her artistic acceptance. Again the image is unforgettably beautiful.

This is a production that is a work of art. It concerns itself as much with the works of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera as with their lives. A screen often separates the actors and a few cleverly designed props from the audience and this allows projections of paintings and film to enhance the visual quality. All of this is accompanied by music from the current theatrical favourite, Arvo Pärt.