A montage of sympathetic storytelling, shape-shifting choreography and stunning design tells the forgotten true story of Gerda Taro, the first female war photographer ever to die on the front line.
In Paris in the 1930s a young woman, Gerda Pohorylle, recently arrived from Leipzig, met a Hungarian photographer called Andre Friedmann. Both Jewish emigres, struggling and keen to reinvent themselves, they became Gerda Taro and Robert Capa, artistes extraordinaires with glamorous but vague credentials.
When the Spanish Civil War erupted, they went there, to raise their own profiles and to support the Republican cause. Both enjoyed a certain amount of fame and both died in action, albeit at different times, with Capa outliving Taro. However, while Capa’s legacy became internationally celebrated, Taro, along with her photographs, faded into obscurity. Only in the 1990s, in a suitcase in Mexico, were the negatives unearthed. With them emerged new perspectives on war and on the formidable woman determined to focus her lens on fascism.
Photographs capture fleeting moments with the blink of a shutter, yet the result - if preserved - can elongate time. “A timeless imprint, brought to light in darkness”, as one of the characters says, seemed to be the main, recurring theme and metaphor of this play. The producers are clear that, although based on the real lives of Taro and Capa, the play is a fictionalised account – and rightly so. Even historians are unclear about the events or the complex relationship between Taro and Cara, so you could hardly expect a performance lasting a little over an hour to capture it all. While there are allusions to this complexity – for example, Capa’s gambling and womanising, his brother’s perception of Taro as “just another girlfriend” – the romance is in the foreground, with individual character development somewhat blurred at the margins. Nonetheless, it’s a damn good story, and I was captivated.
Idle Motion create “highly visual theatre that places human stories at the heart of our work”. Apparently they were formed at secondary school, and in their twenties when this play was conceived. I wouldn’t want to patronise them by over-emphasising this fact, but if they are this good now I can’t wait to see more of their work as they grow.
There were flashes of genius in the stage direction, set and props. The choreography, exhilarating and often balletic, was just the right side of mawkishness or melodrama. The actors worked well together, with 21st century accents that you might hate or love; for me, it was absolutely right to keep them, rather than make a hash of several countries and time periods, and to let the story and visuals evoke the era.
A picture that tells a thousand words, a great woman behind every great man: two old clichés that, interwoven as they were in tonight’s compelling performance, never felt so true.
This review refers to the performance on the 28th of April 2015, at the North Wall Arts Centre.