Production: Frida and Diego
Venue: Drama Barn
Rating: * * * * *
Running: 7 May to 9 May 2010
Frida and Diego, a love story by Greg Cullen, centres on the meeting and romance of two of Mexico’s most influential and controversial artists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Set in the wake of Frida’s death and composed of a series of flashbacks, the play cum musical follows the aging painter and revolutionary Diego on a journey into the past to revisit specific scenes from his life with Frida. Accompanied by the ever-present and creepy Catarina Calavera (death incarnate) brilliantly played Charlotte Alexander Marsh, and supported by a cast of Ghouls representing family and friends, Diego and the resurrected Frida explore both the trials and tribulations of their passionate and tormented relationship.
Directed by Rhiannon Ashcroft and Produced by Laurence Cook, Frida and Diego is an action packed and stimulating piece of musical drama. The piece covers a multitude of interrelated topics from cultural identity to the maternal body, art and modernity to war and revolution at the heart of which lie the two basest of subjects, sex and violence and their unshakable bond.
Ashcroft and Cook have really gone all out for this performance; the interior of the barn is transformed into a Mexican villa, while an in-house band wait to greet you at the door and in the true spirit of a fiesta, food and drink are served during the intermission. Watching Frida and Diego is by far more of an experience than it is a performance, yet none of this detracts from the exceptionally high standard of acting.
While Catherine Bennett has all the spunk of a young and bolshie Frida, for me she lacks a certain womanly ardour for co-star Tom Holmes as Diego. She is often outshined by Sarah Lewis, most notable for her role as Lupe, whose seductive performance is incomparable. This aside Bennett is at her best in scenes of heightened drama when an altogether more mature and fiery Frida comes to the fore, in particular the scenes of miscarriage. For me there are two key scenes which stand out, the first being Frida showered in golden glitter, a beautiful yet tragic scene and later Frida’s imagined ritualistic murder, in which her shrieks of terror had my heart in my mouth.
Tom Holmes as Diego is a gentle giant, whose subtle Mexican accent is both extremely enticing and affective in securing the audience’s confidence. At times it is hard to imagine the overweight and aging Diego, however talented, attracting so many young lovers. The pair’s only downfall is their lack of chemistry, where individually they shine; in union they sometimes miss the spark needed to ignite the audience’s passions. Having said this I trust that this is something that can only improve with time and perhaps also serves to reinforce the characters wavering physical and emotional distance. Both Frida and Diego are wildly independent figures, whilst Frida remains a black sheep all her life, Diego is prone to wander.
Luckily the couple are backed up by an incredibly talented supporting cast all doubling up as Catarina’s band of Calaveras; here honourable mentions must go to Robert Stuart for his role as Frida’s Father amongst others and Jonathon Carr for his moments of confrontation with Diego. All the cast shine during the four musical numbers of which Modern Man, and A Viva Los Calaveras (Siqueiros Got a Gun) are particularly entertaining and although Frida and Diego is at times a dark and disturbing piece of theatre , the play is peppered with moments of genuine hilarity. Loaded with tongue in cheek jokes and fabulous innuendo Frida and Diego is one tragi-comedy you will never forget.