The Marriage of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein by Edward Einhorn. Jermyn Street Theatre, 16B Jermyn Street, London SW1 to 16 April 2022. 5*****.William Russell.

Theatre of the absurd at its best, Edward Einhorn, as well as writing the play, has come up with a first rate production and secured from his cast a collection of performances to relish. Alice B Toklas was Gertrude Stein’s long time companion and, if one is interested in gay and lesbian history, they are major players although pretty well forgotten today. They belonged to that glittering world of American intellectuals and poseurs of flocked to Paris in the first half of the last century and Stein, whose family had money, set up a salon attended by the likes of Picasso and Cezanne and – seen here in a wonderfully bombastic performance by Mark Huckett in all his macho splendour concealing the undeniably soft centre. As Picasso and pretty well everyone else Kelly Burke also shines, the artists proliferation of lovers contrasting with the long relationship between Stein and Toklas. But the play ultimately rests on the performances of the two leads and on the way Einhorn has crafted it so that they are always playing with words, pretending to be one another so that you never quite know who is telling you like it not necessarily was, but like they want it to be at that particular moment. The play is full of good lines and they get delivered with manifest relish by Natasha Byrne as the chunky bulldog Stein and Alyssa Simon as the here moustacheless Toklas. They make a double act to delight even if you are sometimes not sure who is the comic and who the straight – so to speak – woman.
It is divided into two versions of the wedding with a short pause in between and their wedding night is one I will remember fo a long time to come. Jermyn Street provides the perfect home for the play. Whether anybody still reads their books is anybody’s guess but in their day they were famous and survived the Nazi occupation of Paris – Alice outlived Gertrude and was none too well treated by his in laws but it is ever thus it seems. Authors directing their own work is something one usually dreads but no reason to do so here. It all takes place in a really clever set – the miracles worked at Jermyn Street are always miraculous – which is both elegant and keeps you up with where you happen to be at the time. Go see and you will find out.
Picasso: Kelly Burke.
Gertrude Stein: Natasha Byrne.
Hemingway: Mark Huckett.
Alice B Toklas: Alyssa Simon.

Director: Edward Einhorn.
Set Designer: Machiko Weston.
Costume Designer: Anna Lewis.
Lighting Designer: Ali Hunter.
Sound Designer: Mark Brickner.
Production Photography: Ali Wright.
Production Photographs: Ali Wright.

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