Review: About Leo, Jermyn Street

Excellent creative work makes About Leo, the debut play from Alice Allemano a real success at the Jermyn Street Theatre

“I have never, in my life, for one moment, been anyone’s muse. I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist”

What does a woman have to do to be appreciated on her own merits? Be a leading surrealist painter? Be a founding member of the women’s movement in the country where she lives? Write several successful books?  Leonora Carrington may not be the best known of names but she deserves more than being known someone who had an affair with Max Ernst.

Such is the set-up for Alice Allemano’s impressive debut play About Leo. Wannabe journalist Eliza Prentice rocks up at Carrington’s Mexico City residence in order to secure an interview for a retrospective of Ernst’s work but is soon disabused of the notion that she was a mere ‘muse’. And over a long night, as tea turns into tequila, stories of love and loss and art and aspiration reveal a hugely fascinating figure. 

And far from providing a straight-up biopic, Michael Oakley’s production of Allemano’s play is something much more interesting. Past and present are staged at the same time, older Leonora’s memories eliding into direct action, younger Leonora’s intensity unable to be conveyed through words alone. Adding to the hallucinatory sense of a dream are juddering images of people with animal heads with Amy Mae’s vivid lighting and Matt Eaton’s growling sound contributing to a wonderfully weird mood.

Erika Paola Rodriguez Egas’ set design also does wonders in creating the space for dual timelines, as Susan Tracy and Phoebe Pryce’s older and younger selves occupy the stage almost uninterruptedly. Tracy in particular is superb at conveying the multitudinous layers to a life well lived, as interested in drawing out Eliza’s own personal history as in delving into her own. And Eleanor Wyld as Eliza strikes a vivid presence next to her, her initial cheeriness masking her own secrets. 

A bravura start to the Jermyn Street’s Rebels season then, and one definitely worth catching.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Robert Workman
About Leo is booking at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 29th September

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