As the crowd, chattering away in Spanish, clamber into the foyer of the Newtown Community Centre, the doors open and the audience walk into the dim theatre. There is a single amber light on stage that lights up the medical set. It’s a simple but effective setting with only a few black and white curtains, a clinical looking white chair, some bottles and flannels. The chair is hidden behind one of the curtains and the stage is covered in shadows. We are brought into the world of the show instantly by slow tango music. We are then plunged into darkness and silence before the show starts.
Cecilia Monteagudo plays Frida, who spends the majority of the shows tormented by the bus accident. However, Monteagudo could focus more on her connection with Kahlo as it would help to build a stronger sense of tension throughout the show. In general, the emotions feel slightly forced from both actors as if they were not completely comfortable in their roles. Anastasia Dolinina plays Kahlo, a stern woman who is trying desperately to get Frida to paint once more. She spends a lot of the show singing a capella either to comfort Frida or due to her frustration at Frida’s decisions. Dolinina’s monologues to the audience about the bus accident have a raw power, as she stares out at the crowd and paints the horrific picture with her words.
Manuel Saez’s directing is an admirable first attempt. However, the physical connection between the characters is lacking, which is especially apparent since the pair represent one person. The character’s relationship enters into a strangely sensual world when Frida and Kahlo profess their love for one another as they caress and wrap their legs around one another. The staging of the bus accident leaves a little too much to the imagination. The bus accident could have been explored a lot more and if the show is performed again, it would be great to make the bus accident a lot more physical, while also using lights, sound, AV or even paint, to show the horrific accident. The show feels like it needs more development to get to the place it wants to be.
Frida vs. Kahlo is also written by Manuel Saez, but I found some of the dialogue a bit too on the nose. In general, it feels somewhat sluggish due to its repetition of lines and needs more development in what is happening beneath the surface of the text. The dialogue sets up the threat of an imminent party that will arrive only to have them quickly forgotten in the next scene therefore losing it’s power to create tension. The show then ends abruptly and I am left asking myself what the show is about. The themes of the show need to be explored in more depth possibly through more stories about other parts of Frida’s life to give the show more context.
Frida vs. Kahlo sticks to simple amber and white lighting states throughout the show, creating some beautiful shadows. However, the lights cut to show time changes disorient the audience due to the abrupt nature of the changes in the space. The costumes nicely represent the characters and the changes that they go through during the show such as the orange dress and floral headpiece Frida wears near the end of the play. However, some more detailed costume pieces to create the look of Frida Kahlo would not go amiss. The music starts to pull us in the moment the show starts with a ticking clock that shows the passing of time. The music feels well placed and helps to tie the show together especially the use of the soft guitar and violin music that pulls us further into the world onstage.
Frida vs. Kahlo is a show aimed at an audience who have a great deal of knowledge about Frida Kahlo and want to learn even more about her colourful complex life. The show still needs development but has potential to become a beautiful piece of theatre about an artistic icon.
Frida vs. Kahlo is on at Newtown Community Centre at 9pm until Sunday 26th February. Tickets are available at fringe.co.nz.