Arrows and Traps latest production Female Firsts presents two plays in rep; Gentleman Jack about queer icon Anne Lister and Shooting the Light about the less well know Gerda Taro, companion of the photographer Robert Capa (Tom Hartill) who took many of the photographs attributed to him and even inspired their name changes as they sort to hide their Jewish identity in 1930s Europe.
Ross McGregor’s writing acknowledges that audiences may not have the background knowledge of this young woman, who died aged 26 after a tank hit her car during the Spanish Civil War and presents her life as a flashback as Lucy Ioannu plays the ghost of Gerda who with the help of her icon Greta Garbo (Beatrice Vincent) produces a film of her life. Cordelia Baumann plays Taro in life, from a schoolgirl who witnesses her mother’s antisemitic attack to a confident woman who abandons her lover Capa to seek photographs and adventure on her own.
I liked the simplicity of this production, cast in matching grey dungarees with accessories to clearly define who was who and a coherent story about this woman who lives life as a refugee going from the Parisian arts scene to war-torn Spain, Ben Jacobs lighting design creating a clear sense of time and place, never finding a anywhere she can call home. When she reunites with Capa, her lover and mentor he offers her a glimpse into a life she never got to have; wars but also taking control of his photographs, something Taro worked hard to ensure he was paid appropriately when she was alive.
There is some great support with Beatrice Vincent as Garbo, Tom Hartill as Capa and Alex Stevens as David Seymour, the man who was with her in death and like Capa dies in the war zone but this is really about Baumann, who provided strong support in Dracula, taking the lead of a difficult and complex character, independent but also dependent on Capa, sentimental about her Jewish background but also quick to be seen as gentile. Ioannou as Taro in death and in childhood with Toby Wynn-Davies as her father shows the importance these men had on her life and how she was keen to leave their shadow.
As ever this is a really strong and interesting production, about a less well-known woman and left me wanting to find out more about her and her short life, from the Arrow and Traps team and as ever I look forward to seeing what they do next.
Taro and Gentleman Jack were on until 16 February. Please see the Arrows and Traps website for future projects https://www.arrowsandtraps.com/