This production, named after one of Frida Kahlo’s final works, is an in depth and intimate look at an artist at the end of life. Kahlo’s forty-seven years on earth was dominated by illness; polio, miscarriages and a car accident which saw a promising medical student decide to become an artist instead.
Gael Le Cornec performs as Kahlo and has with director Luis Benkard adapted Mexican writer Humberto Robles’ script for an English speaking audience (though the multilingual Le Cornec includes a lot of Spanish for a multilingual audience). Kahlo’s Mexican and European heritage dominated her work and Roble’s script puts a colonialist slant on the Spanish culture mixing with indigenous. Mexico and Spanish-speaking latin America has a culture that no longer fits well with it European cousins or its Aztec ancestors. On stage a replica, painted by Ari Vicentini, of The Two Fridas serves a as a backdrop to a woman struggling with identity as a woman and as a artist.
As a woman her life is dominated by her marriage to Diego Rivera, a man twenty years her senior and who her mother describes as an elephant to Kahlo’s petite dove. Their marriage is dominated by their affairs (Kahlo was openly bisexual) and their inability to have children consumes her with grief and plays a major part in her work.
Le Cornec is mesmerising and charming as Frida, as she flirts with the audience and interacts with her dead lovers via Day of the Dead skulls it feels hallucinogenic as the pain medication keeping Kahlo going affect her memories. As someone who knew little about Kahlo I came out of this production wanting to know so much more. In just an hour her complex life and work are explored with respect and thought provoking ideas about what makes an artist and what makes a person like Frida Kahlo and will it ever be replicated again. The use of art and costume make this small production seem expansive, like it should have a ensemble. It isn’t easy to embody the charm and talent of Kahlo but Le Cornec more than manages it.
Frida Kahlo: Viva La Vida is on 8 and 15 February 15:10 at the Vault Festival. https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/frida-kahlo-viva-la-vida/