AWESOME Review: Lemony S Puppet Theatre, Picasso and his Dog ⋅
Dolphin Theatre, October 11 ⋅
Review by David Zampatti ⋅
My eldest son has a rascal of a sausage dog called Frankie. He also owns a print, a sweep of black curves on white paper. It’s a sketch of a dachshund, signed by the artist, Pablo Picasso.
After seeing Lemony S Puppet Theatre’s truly wonderful Picasso and His Dog I know that its name was Lump (“Rascal” in German). I also know a lot more about the whys and hows of my son’s print, about Picasso, and, I think, about artists and art.
And I’ve seen – not for the first time – how the best children’s theatre has the quality of directness and clarity that’s essential to delight young audiences and engage their grown-up handlers.
It’s the start of the day in the artist’s studio, a ramshackle jumble that looks like a small tornado has hit it. It is the debris (we imagine) of Picasso’s scattergun work the day before.
His assistants, Michelle (Tamara Rewse) and Francoise (Jacob Williams) busy themselves making it fit for human habitation and work.
Everything is in its place – brushes and paints, easels and canvases, fruit bowls and furniture – ready for Picasso (Ben Grant) to emerge.
When he does, he moves with restless profligacy from one task to another – a brushstroke or two here, moulding some clay there, holding objects up to his view. “I made this – it’s a Picasso!” he declares with delight in his production.
Then Lump arrives, and we find out who the small tornado actually was. (Lump was a real dog, a pet of the photographer David Douglas Duncan, who gave him to Picasso in 1957. The dog and the artist were inseparable until Lump died in 1973, only ten days before Picasso himself.)
We also find out how the artist worked, and, in a brilliant animated sequence, how animals and humans have interacted through art across the millennia.
The writer Sarah Kriegler, who also directed, has done a remarkable job breathing life into a story that has been well recorded but not well known.
She weaves what we need to know into what is essentially a love story between a man and a dog without ever explaining what we don’t need to know, or knew already. (In that regard, it’s admirable that she never tells us who Picasso was, even though, no doubt, the majority of the young audience would not have known of him. She lets them find him for themselves. A brave and wholly successful decision.)
She’s been supported by an exemplary creative team, designers Jonathon Oxlade and , lighting designer Rachel Burke and sound designers and composers Jethro Woodward and Ben T.D., who’ve given the production a rich look, sound and feel, as impressive as anything you’ll see on any stage.
Grant creates an entirely believable, natural and appealing character: portly, kooky and avuncular. Was this the real Picasso? Who cares!
Lump is a fabulous creation of wood and leather, skilfully manipulated by Rewse and Williams, who were the most active and involved of puppeteers.
Picasso and his Dog is as finely devised and realised piece of theatre, of any kind, as you will see. For children, who deserve nothing but the best in their early experience of the arts, it is a gift beyond measure.
Pictured: Ben Grant and his dog Lump. Photo: Pia Johnson.