Picasso’s Artful Occupation -The ‘Curtain’s Up, Barons Court Theatre, until 30 March


Ian Buckley’s new play is another of his thought provoking creations based on a real life situation. Readers may remember another of his plays, ‘The Tailors Last Stand’ performed at the same theatre a year ago.


Picasso’s Artful Occupation  is based on an incident that took place in German occupied Paris in 1940.


France had quickly surrendered to a German invasion and Picasso, living in exile from Spain, was ordered to make an inventory of all his paintings, and their probable costs.

This forms the backdrop to an intriguing encounter between the artist and the two German officers sent to list his works.


The play comprises three characters, Picasso himself and the two widely differing German officers, Frisch and Hebbel.


The scene is set entirely in the vault of the Banque National du Commerce and de l’Industrie in Paris where the artist stored his paintings.


We know from the outset that there is little danger to Picasso’s safety. He was an artist of international renown and although the Nazis cared little for what they called ‘Bolshevik degenerate art’, of which his work was a part, the international repercussions to ending his life would be too great.


What transpires is an intriguing and fascinating  exchange between the artist and the German officers with Picasso emerging as a clear winner. In the closing few minutes of the play Picasso divulges his raison d’etre for lies and deception, ‘you can’t be honest in a dishonest world’.


He uses manipulation, intrigue, even the threat of knowing the officers’ commander in order to thwart their attempts to catalogue and price his works. In this he is helped by one of the German’s desire to finish the job quickly and meet with his mistress.


The other, although conscientious, finally succumbs to his wishes, but not before Picasso has dropped strong hints to both of them that he knows the officer in overall change and in the event of any disagreement he may have to call on the services of this higher authority.


It proves to be unnecessary. The artist gets his way. The paintings are listed but the prices are ad hoc, based on size rather than value.


Three strong performances from Gary Heron as Picasso, Roberto Landi as Officer Willi Frisch and David O’Connor as Officer Franz Hebbel, the officer who gets to spend the day with his mistress after Picasso’s triumph.


Well worth a watch.


Mike Squires

50 Elmfield Road

Balham SW17 8AL