Tom Littler opens his second season as artistic director of Jermyn Street Theatre with the UK première of Lanie Robertson’s Woman Before A Glass. As befits the Scandal season, it is about infamous art collector & socialite Peggy Guggenheim – also apt as the theatre is not too far away from where she opened her gallery Guggenheim Jeune exactly 80 years ago.
We find ourselves at Peggy’s palazzo in Venice, towards the end of her life. Over the course of 90 minutes we meet her at four separate moments: preparing for a visit from “Il Presidente”, trying to get her daughter ready for an event, negotiating with the director of the Tate about potentially leaving them her collection, and out on her gondola for what sounds like her final trip. Each scene consists of Peggy recounting stories of her colourful life, often triggered by something she sees (there is a tale behind every outfit she contemplates in scene one) or where she is in her life – all moments are tied together by her need to settle her legacy.
The main problem is that her life seems to have been too extravagant & scandalous; the play just doesn’t do her justice. It is a one-woman show, so it does suffer from a bit of monotony as we have only one person to hold our attention for an hour and a half; you also find yourself wishing that you could actually see some of the extraordinary things happening right in front of you. It would perhaps be better to focus on one short segment of Peggy Guggenheim’s life in order to do it justice – or to extend it and bring in additional actors to play out some of the things she remembers.
Judy Rosenblatt is required mostly to speak to the audience, but also talks on the phone and has one-sided conversations with her daughter & a gondolier (amongst other people). It feels slightly odd, for one thing, that a big group of us has been invited into her home (& her gondola) like this. Rosenblatt also doesn’t modulate her tone between talking to us and the ‘real’ people in each scene – so it all blends together and adds to the monotony. The constant fiddling with her dress early on is pretty distracting, as is the fake smoking in a later scene (though I am thankful for the intimate auditorium not getting filled with smoke) and her penchant for calling people “honey”.
My verdict? A bit of a waste of material that has significant potential, resulting in an hour & a half that starts to drag – an inauspicious start to the new season.
Woman Before A Glass runs at Jermyn Street Theatre until 3 February 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.