||Mar 15 2002
By The Journal
The second part of Picasso's Women, Brian McAvera's series of monologues about the ladies in the artist's life, opened yesterday with a matinee performance and a group of autograph hunters at the stage door of the Theatre Royal.
Years ago, this was common. The British theatre - the theatre of Noel Coward and his ilk - generated glamour and celebrity like a power station. Nowadays, more often than not, these qualities are imported from other worlds.
The target of yesterday's signature-scroungers was the least experienced of the five actresses taking part in this two-part production (two monologues at the start of the week, three as of yesterday).
Jerry Hall, famous supermodel and one-time wife of Mick Jagger, was making her North-East stage debut, latest landmark in a fledgling career as a theatre actress. But she was on last so we'll come to her last.
Gwen Taylor, an actress with a substantial CV (she was last here in Lettice And Lovage), looks back on life with Picasso from the perspective of Fernande Olivier, the lady who gave him his first real relationship.
She's playing a game of Patience from beyond the grave. "Eight years I had with you," she muses. She reflects grimly on a girlhood rape but mourns Picasso, who was no angel, for his "dogged energy". Unlike some of his later women, Fernande can reflect on his hair: "Black, shiny, obstinate." Picasso's libido long outlived his hair.
Or was it libido? Perhaps it was something nastier, as Marie-Thérèse Walter - in the person of young actress Candida Benson - intimates. She was a gymnast, picked up by Picasso on the street and offered breakfast.
Picasso, she would learn, was "a diabolical man" but she came to rely on him, not only for money (she bore him a child) but for love. In a heart-rending display of wishful thinking, she talks of his deathbed note proclaiming her "the only woman I ever loved".
Gaby Lespinasse was having none of this nonsense. Marie-Thérèse hanged herself while Gaby, streetwise and alluring, died in her 80s looking back on a long and happy marriage, but not to the artist who - for once, you feel - was given a taste of his own medicine.
Jerry Hall has the second half to herself as a drawling Gaby, sitting in her bedroom with a full moon hanging artfully outside the window.
Great actresses are often quite bland, ciphers for the characters which consume them on stage. Jerry Hall is neither bland nor subtle. But there are plenty of compensations - her sheer physical presence for one thing.
No wonder she was a catwalk sensation: The hair, the hauteur tinged with mischief, the long, long legs revealed impressively when, at one point, Gaby plonks a foot mannishly on the table (director Andy Jordan clearly playing to Jerry's strengths).
And when she slips off a nightie to reveal the kind of underwear you can't buy off the peg, only to pull on a fabulous Vivienne Westwood dress, ivory with black trim, you get a sense of Picasso being truly upstaged.
When Gaby strode to the front of the stage and invited yesterday's mostly white-haired matinee audience to share her method for dealing with men, it was game, set and match. "Men are like dogs," she drawled, instructing the rapt pensioners: "Never, ever allow yourself to become submissive."
It became the Jerry show. Gaby, as recreated by McAvera, asserts herself by using foul language with defiance. No-one walked out. In some parts of the grand circle, opera glasses were trained. Miss Hall might not win awards for her acting but Gaby surely would not have felt cheated and neither, I guess, did we.