Jermyn Street Theatre, the West End’s arthouse performance venue is currently running its Scandal season. Opening the season is the one-woman play Woman Before A Glass by Lanie Robertson.
I’m assuming the name Guggenheim is a name that is familiar to the majority of people, however, If you’re like me, you’d have heard of the museum and not necessarily Peggy Guggenheim; collector of modern art and self-confessed scandaliser.
I’m ashamed to say I’d not heard of this woman, which is such a pity as she appears to me, to be the kind of woman that should be remembered and celebrated for living her life on her terms.
The piece is divided into 4 segments, each reflecting a time in Peggy’s life. Now, a 90-minute monologue is not everyone’s first choice, I am aware of this, however, Judy Rosenblatt is hypnotic to watch, she commands the stage in a magical way and delivers her lines in a way that made me feel like she was talking directly to me, not an auditorium of people.
As we are all aware, there are not many plays for women of a certain age, and those that do exist tend to not sexualise the protagonist, I think it would be fair to say that a British audience doesn’t really expect to hear a woman cast at the age of 60+ talking about her sexploits and the married men in her life – of course, the married men are not just those she was married to herself. Well bravo to the those who have taken a risk bringing Peggy Guggenheim back to London, a mere 10 minutes walk away from the gallery she opened in Cork Street 80 years ago.
Guggenheim was a complex, beautiful iconoclast who chose to live her life on her terms – and why not! Surely we should all be doing this. Although Guggenheim wasn’t of this generation, she was born a Jew in New York City in 1898 and died in Caposampiero, Italy in 1979. Guggenheim lived through Nazi occupation and 2 failed marriages, she was a wife, a lover, divorcee, mother and the “other woman”. She was a fashionista and a philanthropist. She led a life as one of the “poorer” Guggenheim’s, an art collector. Her passion for modern art (or living art as Samuel Beckett once told her) and her ability to help struggling artists create art which she collected and displayed in her Venice home, meant that she is one of the women who has changed the face of modern art and genuinely paved the way for women to live their lives on their own terms.
The casting of Judy Rosenblatt as Guggenheim is wonderful; she brought Peggy to life fantastically well. Her emotional and frank performance showed that age doesn’t necessarily mean women cease to exist. Watching her portray Peggy made me want to go home and search on Google for Peggy Guggenheim. She made me want to look at the art that Peggy bought, (1 piece a day at a certain point in her life) I loved Peggy’s joie de vivre, her wit, her foul mouth; her realness and frank way of speaking. For me, Peggy was an amazing woman and I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t know her name before the show.
The piece is full of juicy stories and memories from Guggenheim’s autobiography, it’s a who’s who of the modern art and fashion world, the set reflects each stage of Guggenheim’s story, we watch her get dressed for the professional engagements as well as her behind the makeup moments as well a terrifically performed scene where she is on the phone to the Tate London discussing handing over her collections posthumously. I particularly enjoyed this part of the production, it really energised the character and showed her living through a range of emotions.
Overall, the lighting, music, sound effects and costumes worked really well to enhance the piece, however, I was a bit perturbed when she was sat at her dressing table applying make up that was obviously from 2018! (note to stage management, sort this out, it’s distracting!).
All in all, I loved this piece, I love that someone has taken the time to bring this astonishing woman back to life through a medium she would approve of, that she is portrayed as warm, funny, intelligent and inspirational.
If you’re a fan of autobiographies, of a woman who challenged society, of a woman who fought hard to leave a legacy in this world, then go and watch this piece.
Review by Faye Stockley
Peggy Guggenheim collected art — and artists. Married to Max Ernst, lover of Samuel Beckett, champion of Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso, Peggy’s love life was as colourful as her art collection. She moved to Venice in the late 1940s and quickly became one of its most glamorous, scandalous residents.
Lanie Robertson’s play brings Peggy’s remarkable story to life. Peggy’s passionate loyalties and prejudices changed the face of twentieth-century art–but at what cost?
Jermyn Street Theatre
The SCANDAL Season
WOMAN BEFORE A GLASS
By Lanie Robertson
A UK premiere
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Recreated by Tom McClane-Williamson
Original design by Giovanni Villari recreated
by Erika Rodriguez
Original lighting by Stephen Petrilli recreated
by Ali Hunter
Costume design by Catherine Siracusa
Sound by Giovanni Villari
Starring: Judy Rosenblatt