Appropriately for a farcical play, this is a production with plenty of heartfelt enthusiasm, buckets of energy and an irrepressible sense of the surreal. Based on a fictionalised version of the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911 (a pre-curtain notice warns us to take literally nothing as gospel), this is history at its loosest.
The actors are committed and the script witty, with plenty of of nods to the poetry, art and literature of the period. This intellectualism is nicely balanced with a deliberately outrageous French accent, neat silent movie segments and lashings of implied sex. One of the most anarchic and fun sections is when a character is tortured by extensive readings from the work of Gertrude Stein, and there’s a great line of recurring Cubist gags—with a great thirty second explanation and defence of the movement to boot.
Sadly, the plot is less successful. A strong start sees the Mona Lisa already present in our hero’s flat, with no idea how it arrived there. However, after some fun attempts to ditch the painting, the play isn’t quite sure what to do with the cast of excellent characters, leaving us with a slightly unsatisfying ending. There are a number of “appearances” by other notorious figures—Hemmingway, F. Scott Fizgerald and James Joyce all feature—which, for all their meta intentions, don’t quite work. Yet, this remains a highly enjoyable, and above all, knowingly silly piece of work.