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The life of Lee Miller provides an interesting focus



Review by David Munro

THERE has recently been an exhibition devoted to the photographs of Lee Miller at The Natonal Portrait Gallery which proved that with a camera she was a talented artist of great sensitivity and range.

I wondered, therefore, how a musical based on her could fit into the 'con artist' theme of this year’s Chichester Festival.

An American who lived mainly in Paris during the Thirties and had what is now described as a 'freewheeling' life, cutting a swathe through the Vie Boheme, having affairs with all and sundry and being allegedly the muse for Picasso, Man Ray and Cocteau, her love affair with her camera must have been a relief.

During the war she travelled as a photographer with the US Army in Europe, witnessed the liberation of Paris and took the first pictures of Dachau.

After the war, she settled down in East Sussex and became a wife, mother and cookery writer; a vivid and diverse life of a more outré and talented Evangeline as immortalised in the Cole Porter musical, Nymph Errant.

Alas, Jason Lee is no Cole Porter and his songs, charming as they are, tend to ornament the play rather than develop or illustrate the characters.

Only in one song, Pictures of Egypt, does he explore Lee’s devotion to her work. The result is more a play with songs rather than a musical.

Edward Kemp fares better. His dramatisation of Lee’s life, although episodic, leaves one with the picture of a flawed but intense woman who found a release from her emotions in her work and who was ultimately defeated by domesticity and an apparently unfaithful husband.

This picture is given life in Anna Francolini’s performance. By the end of the play you feel that even if you cannot empathise with Lee and her neurotic behaviour, you can at least begin to understand what made her tick and the final curtain, where unhappy and frustrated she sits down to pour herself another drink, is a memorable one and a perfect culmination of Miss Francolini’s equally memorable portrayal of the character.

The rest of the cast are satellites to Miss Francolini’s sun. Mostly doubling up on the various characters the fragmentary nature of the play never allows development of character as such, so in the main they are just pegs on which to hang the development of Lee’s career through life and love.

Brendan O’Hea is an attractive Roland Penrose, whom she finally marries; Beverley Klein makes an amusing monster of the editor of Vogue who gave her her first big chance.

Anna Lowe makes the most of the glamour roles of model, circus performer and financier’s wife but on the whole the cast, though able, have little chance to prove their worth.

One can but admire Edward Kemp’s desire to capture this fascinating butterfly on stage but I was not sure in the end whether he had really succeeded in achieving what he set out to do.

While the pieces of the jigsaw of her life were there I never felt they came together to provide the whole picture, leaving one with a slight sense of dissatisfaction over what could have been a great play.

Nonetheless, this an occasion where half a loaf is better than none. Six Lives Of Lee Miller is not a play to be missed and while it may leave questions unanswered, you can at least have the fun of finding those out for yourself; which to my mind, makes it a worthwhile evening of theatre.

Six Pictures Of Lee Miller: Inspired by the Lives of Lee Miller by Anthony Penrose; Book by Edward Kemp.
Music & Lyrics by Jason Carr.
Directed by Anthony van Laast.
Designer - Sue Blane.
Lighting Designer - Paul Pyant.
Sound Designer - Paul Arditti.
Musical Director – Jonathan Williams.

CAST: Anna Francolini; Teddy Kempner; Beverley Klein; Anna Lowe; Mark Meadows; Gary Milner; Brendan O’Hea; Melvin Whitfield.
In Repertory until September 10, 2005.
Minerva Theatre
Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 6AP.
Box Office: 01243 781312

Related Chichester 2005 reviews: The Scarlett Letter

The Government Inspector

Scapino

King Lear

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