Next month sees the fourth anniversary of artist Lucian Freud’s death. As a play about his life starring Maureen Lipman ends, old friend Rebecca Wallersteiner is left feeling nostalgic….
Maureen Lipman gives an excellent cameo performance as the older Dora Maar, Picasso’s troubled muse in An Evening with Lucian Freud, a 60-minute play by Laura-Jane Foley that has just finished a short run at the Leicester Square Theatre.
In the play, Lipman tells the story of how, as a young man, Freud had visited Picasso, who thought he was a young pretender.
Directed by Ella Marchment and designed by Lily German, the narrative explores the themes of memory, creativity and celebrity and reflects on how artists and writers must use people to make their art.
The play is based on the author’s one-night encounter with Freud in 2004, when she sat up discussing art with him.
As a 21-year-old Cambridge student, Foley wrote to Freud, 61 years her senior, asking to interview him for her student newspaper. Famously reclusive, he declines but invites her to dinner.
Cressida Bonas, Prince Harry’s ex-girlfriend, is perfectly cast as Foley, the fresh and whimsical PhD student, who charms and teases the ageing and decadent artist.
Her dance training shows in her grace and elegant twirls. However, the disembodied voice of Lucian, who you see, but don’t hear, sounds more like Eddie Redmayne than Freud, who died in July 2011.
Perhaps I am too close to the subject to be impartial about the play – as for six years in the 1980s and 1990s, I was a friend of the artist, helping him buy his paints and champagne and sharing his gossip. Indeed, some of the lines in the play certainly sounded familiar.
Most of the play is a solo-performance. In character, Bonas speaks for almost an hour describing how Freud plied her with vintage champagne and regaled her with stories of the great artists he had met. He scrutinised her, assessing her weight, skin and hair colour and her way of moving.
Is Bonas personally intrigued by the famously secretive artist? “I think Lucian Freud was an artist who refused to conform. He wanted to uncover and convey truth through his art. It’s great to find out about the man behind these amazing artworks,” she answers.
In the play, we hear that Foley turns down the offer to model for Freud. Does she regret it now? “I don’t regret it, because I didn’t want it at the time. But to be honest if an artist asked now, I’d probably model. I’m interested in the process and probably more relaxed now than I was as a 21-year-old,” she says.
The compactness of the tiny 50-seater theatre authentically helped recreate the intimate atmosphere of Freud’s studio. With its Rodin, and Cezanne, smell of turpentine, 500 watt light bulb and discarded piles of lobster shells, it was rather like a carefully orchestrated stage-set in itself. Although it was a little surreal, I enjoyed the evening.
Freud’s last words to his friends were: “Keep my name in lights,” so I think he would be pleased by Foley’s play.