We may know of the famous Frida Kahlo, the surrealist painter, whose artworks acutely translate the pain of her life and her experience in the horrific bus accident…However, her sister Cristina was not recognized as an artist herself, was not involved in an accident but was at least a direct or indirect subject in several of her sister’s paintings.
Ensemble SeaSession and theatre maker, Servaes Nelissen, shine the light onto the painter’s hidden sibling in their Mexican musical show De zus van Frida Kahlo.
Together with nine musicians, twenty instruments, a pianola “gone wild”, animated puppets along with several short films, I and others find ourselves erratically lost “in a surrealistic dream world between life and death” as protagonist and Mexican connoisseur, Frederik de Waal, and Cristina herself, accompany us on this eccentric and comedic adventure.
Frederik, who is played by Servaes Nelissen, is attempting to find his Mexican roots as a conductor of an orchestra while experiencing a rapid decline in his health. Throughout the show, his gradually evident insanity and concurrent hallucinations drive him to take highly questionable actions, eventually leading him and the audience to meet the mysterious sister, Cristina Kahlo.
From beginning to end of the muzikale Mexicoshow, the utter delirium of Frederik is so exquisitely portrayed by the balanced transposition of theatre, light, music, and reanimation of Cristina (in the form of a puppet) that the totality of it effortlessly reaches a comedic threshold. You cannot not help but find yourself in constant fits of laughter for the whole duration of the show.
The additional alluring animated illustrations, created by Sjeng Schupp, which were projected onto a white curtain, not only facilitates in visualising the disordered surrealism of Frederik’s dreams with himself and Cristina, but also beautifully references Mexican culture.
Pauline Post, pianist and artistic director, explains that she wishes the audience to not only “have a really good time” but also to remark “the unmistakable Mexican roots in all the pieces.”
Much like one would recognize in Frida’s paintings, the association to the country’s culture was no doubt notably depicted in the dynamics and profuse colours tangled within the enchanting, musical ‘chaos’ of the show. The further ornamentation of the music and inclusion of effects to emphasise comedic elements was likewise immaculate, specifically when Frederik’s baton changed from a conducting stick, to a toilet brush, to a snake and then somehow to a window cleaner.
The show, which was originally intended to exclusively portray “Mexico, Mexican art & music, the day of the dead” (Dia de los Muertos) and the differences to Western culture’s apprehension of death, only later surrounded the subject of the artist’s sister. Post further explains that she did not want to completely “ignore Frida Kahlo” despite the over-commercialisation of her life and art.
The juxtaposing themes of life and death within the show is something one would contemplate, regardless. Where death is always met with grief and despair at the loss of a loved one, Mexican culture will also celebrate it with a sense of humour and joy just as De zus van Frida Kahlo has wonderfully done.
Albeit performed in Dutch with the inclusion of some Spanish phrases, you cannot help but cackle at the brilliant spontaneity and unexpected happenstances of the show – from a waltzing bull, arm and arm with the crazy music connoisseur, to a sudden appearance of a dancing cactus – myself and others found ourselves in hysterics. Even if Dutch is not your native language, the show is a must see. The incredible music, pronounced gestures and flawless theatrical timing of light and sound are adequate enough to put a smile on your face.
At the finale, I could not help but wonder what Frida and Cristina Kahlo would think had they been there, present with us in the room – I have no doubt they would also share a laugh with us. Anja Herrmann, 25th April 2023 at the Kleine Komedie, Amsterdam
De zus van Frida Kahlo continues on tour until 4th June.