|Premiere||29 April 1993|
|Venue||The Gasworks Theatre, Albert Park, Victoria|
VIVA LA VIDA - FRIDA KAHLO celebrated the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.
Written by Karen Corbett, composed by Boris Conley and directed by Angela Chaplin, the play depicted the duality of Kahlo’s life as had Kahlo herself, in her painting: The Two Fridas. Designed by Ken Evans with Cliff Dolliver and Lighting designer, Philip Lethlean was the second of Handspan’s major works inspired by the work of a visual artist1 .
Frida Kahlo's painting life began after a street accident further crippled and deformed her already polio affected body. She painted subject matter familiar to her, often, herself. On stage, the European Frida and the Mexican Frida, equally eccentric personalities, struggled for supremacy in the drama and passion of Kahlo's stormy and pain-raddled life with her husband, revolutionary muralist Diego Rivera.
In her submission to Handspan for production of the work in 1991, Corbett outlined her vision:
Kahlo's last painting was titled: Viva La Vida (Long Live Life), hence Corbett's title of the work, which aimed to celebrate that life. Seeking to stage the underlying ‘dream dialogue’ of Kahlo's painted life with animated imagery, Corbett proposed the work to Handspan who she knew 'had been refining this kind of performance dialogue for many years'2 . Handspan took on the project. Corbett took herself to Mexico find Frida there, and on her return, wrote the script.
The play, developed in 1993, translated Corbett’s concepts into the rich imagery of Kahlo’s pictures which interpreted the work and were its hallmark.
Samela Harris reviewed its 1994 season:
In the play, the two Fridas were played by actors who had the only spoken words in the play. A third Frida, a puppet character was (according to performer Carmelina Di Guglielmo) 'the glue, in some ways, between them, something they both had in common from the very beginning whether they both understood it or not'3 . Riviera was represented by huge legs in pin-stripe trousers; skeletons loomed large; an Uncle Sam-like Henry Ford floated; and Frida’s bed (of pain) was a central focus.
VIVA LA VIDA's design represented not only Frida’s paintings, but also derived from Mexican folklore and the imagery seen on the streets of Mexico on the Day of the Dead.
The play was performed to an original soundtrack by Melbourne composer Boris Conley who had previously composed the score for Handspan’s original production of Cho Cho San (1984). Like the design, the score sourced Mexican tradition and blended folk music, some of it based on street recordings made by Corbett in Mexico, into its soundscape.
Reviews were predominantly raves and always the puppetry and staging were applauded as magical although some critics didn’t enjoy the onstage smoke – a signature masking device in Handspan’s works. Several critics, whilst effusive about the work overall, questioned the efficacy of the form and its marriage of images and text:
Angela Bennie's review tried to identify the rationale for critics' mixed response:
Doubts aside, everyone recommended it as a 'must see':
VIVA LA VIDA ... was first performed in Melbourne in 1993 and, with some cast changes, toured to three States in eastern Australia for Performing Lines in 1994.
|Production/stage Manager||Mikkel Mynster (1993), Marnie McDonald (1994)|
|Mexican language consultant||Leopoldo Conchello|
|Dramaturgical assistance||Michael Wansborough|
|Movement assistance||Dianne Reid|
|Set & puppet construction||Cliff Dolliver, Rod Primrose, Mary Sutherland|
|Construction assistants||Traleen Ryan, Philip Emmett, Michael Heap, Davin Baker, Andrew Johnston, Andrew Nelmes, Priscilla Johnston|
|Costume construction||Kym Williams, Lindy Macauley|
|Program design||Fiona Sweet|
|Graphic artist||Rodney Oliver|
|29 April - 22 May 1993||Gasworks Theatre, Albert Park Victoria|
|1994||Performing Lines Tour|
|31 August - 10 September||Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, SA|
|15 - 24 September||The Peacock Theatre, Hobart, Tasmania|
|29 September - 9 October||The Performance Space, Sydney, NSW|