REVIEW! Cuzco by Víctor Sánchez Rodríguez @ Theatre503

Directed by Kate O’Connor
Translated by William Gregory
Produced by Daisy Hale
Featuring Dilek Rose and Gareth Kieran Jones
23rd January – Saturday 16th February 2019

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Images courtesy of Holly Lucas

Many of us in the Western world have, at one stage or another in our lives, fallen into the trap of thinking that we can escape our troubles by travelling to a distant corner of the world. Sometimes, this even works, if just temporarily – but often we find instead that our problems have followed us on the journey.

This is the case with the unnamed Spanish couple in Cuzco. As soon as they arrive in their hotel room in Peru, the cracks in their relationship begin to show. She is afflicted by altitude sickness – or so she claims – and while he is keen to explore the city with newfound friends (another Spanish couple on the same Inca Trail tour), she refuses to leave the hotel. When she does, she is quickly overwhelmed by the city’s culture, so familiar and yet alien to her own, as well as the locals’ aggressive pursuit of Western tourist cash. The echoes of colonialism and the pervasive poverty of Latin America repulse her, but somehow attract her too, and as she is drawn deeper into the mysticism and injustice of the country, her relationship with her partner crumbles into irreparable ruins.

This is the first time Cuzco has been staged in English rather than its native Spanish, and I can honestly say that it is the best translation of a foreign language play that I have ever seen. Of course, this is despite the fact that I don’t speak a word of Spanish, and so have no way of knowing how faithful it was to the original – but often, translators become almost like secondary playwrights, moulding a text in their own creative image as they translate, and I suspect this was the case here. Chatting with a cast member afterwards, I was told that translator William Gregory was very present throughout the rehearsal process, and the result is poetic dialogue which flows beautifully in its friction, humour, tension, pathos, and conflict.

The performances from Dilek Rose and Gareth Kieran Jones are excellent. Rose is compelling throughout, even when utterly dislikeable, and while Jones’ performance is less consistently strong, his final monologue (“see, I can speak your language”) is gut-punchingly powerful. Another reviewer I spoke to was of the opinion that the two lacked onstage chemistry, but I feel this was absolutely an intentional and effective choice – this is a couple who don’t connect anymore, who haven’t slept together in a year, who almost never even look at each other as they talk. Instead, they largely face out towards the audience when speaking, or sit in silence, face turned away and emotions inscrutable. This partial view into their relationship is echoed by the staging; we see them in three different hotel rooms, each time from a different angle, and never outside these rooms. We come to feel that it is the only place their paths really cross as they have two very different and incompatible travel experiences.

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Images courtesy of Holly Lucas

This production is both slick and cuttingly sharp, modern and timelessly relevant, and I can only applaud the acting, translating, directing, and lighting, stage, and sound design. The only way in which it is let down is through its writing. Sánchez Rodríguez tries to include so many meaty topics – tourism, sexism, racism, mental illness, gender roles, colonialism, cultural imperialism, class privilege, child abuse, and more – that none of them are truly unpicked to the extent needed. Indeed, at times these topics are dealt with so shallowly and stereotypically as to be distasteful and disrespectful. This also means that the play is constantly running at high tension and drama that verges on melodrama, without the lulls and comic relief needed to provide emotional pacing for the audience (with the exception of a couple of truly witty anecdotes, such as one about a run-in with another, Dutch, tourist). I felt drained by the time we reached the play’s final climax, and found it difficult to care about the inevitable breakdown of the couple’s relationship, or her surreal existential journey. I do wonder if this can be attributed to cultural differences – perhaps Spanish theatre is simply turned up to a higher intensity than is normal in Britain.

That said, it took a couple of days of mulling over for me to come to the conclusion that the underlying writing of Cuzco wasn’t for me. Walking out of the theatre, I was incredibly impressed by what was an excellent production, and which I would certainly recommend for those who like their theatre at full emotional saturation.

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Previous review: Romeo and Juliet: Mad Blood Stirring by China Plate @ Albany Theatre

Free Solo @ The Drayton Arms Theatre

17 April – 3 May, 2018

by Jack Godfrey & Celine Snippe
Produced by Alice Greening

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Free Solo is a fantastic new musical written by Jack Godfrey and Celine Snippe, directed by Nick Leos and musically directed by Flora Leo. It follows the story of the Robinson Family in the lead up to John Robinson’s daredevil Free Solo Rick climb. Based on the true story we watch as, eleven years on, Robinson’s daughter Hazel reflects on the events that led up to her father’s climb.

Set to a folk-rock score, this new musical is sensitive, with fantastic movement and really human moments. Cecily Redmann was delightful as Hazel Robinson. Her voice was strong, and she safely navigated the changes between young and old Hazel. Simone Leonardi was an absolute stand out as the infamous John Robinson. His voice beautifully conveyed the sensitivity behind the music and gave a fantastic, human approach to the character.

Despite a few technical hitches, this musical was a thoroughly enjoyable watch, highlighting the importance of family and raising questions about responsibility and identity.

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Plastic, Poleroid Theatre @ The Old Red Lion

3 – 21 April, 2018

by Kenneth Emson
Directed by Josh Roche

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Images courtesy of Mathew Foster

Heading up the stairs from the pub to see Plastic at the Old Red Lion builds the right kind of excitement. Plastic takes us to a quintessential Essex school football pitch as we follow the lives of three students. Lisa, jack and Ben, as well as Lisa’s older boyfriend, Kev. We open on a football field, reliving the past. This is perfect, as the seating is somewhat bleacher-like and we are all able to take drinks in with us – it already felt like a football match. Kev is scoring in the Essex cup final, before we are introduced to all the characters, hearing their hopes and dreams in Kenneth Emson’s beautifully lyrical writing. In fact, if there is one reason to go and see this play – it is the writing. Lines intersect each other and seamlessly carry the story, using everyday language in an elevated, poetic way. It’s like Shakespeare, only fully accessible.

Director Josh Roche, and Lighting designer Peter Small and Sound designer Kieran Lucas have brilliantly designed and realised this play. This is a play where all the elements in design and visual direction helped bring this story to light. It was as thought through and well-crafted as the writing. The stage was simply pained up with white lines, creating a football pitch. It was only after the play that I noticed that in particularly tense moments, the cast neared the goal. The soundscape served to heighten the mood and parts from one strongly and somehow misplaced piece of classical music, was noticeably effective. The lighting was cool and was used perfectly to segment moments, change days and create atmosphere.

Look, it’s difficult to find any fault with this play. It was sublimely acted. All four actors skilfully handed rhyming verse, making it seem as though they thought in pattern naturally. Madison Clare was a standout as Lisa, skilfully walking the line of innocence and mischievousness. Louis Greatorex was fantastic, pulling all the right heartstrings. His performance was the most nuanced and alive – even when his character was simply watching what was happening on stage. Thomas Coomes served a suitably volatile Ben. His job was the hardest, his character the most outwardly charged and turbulent and he pulled this off solidly. I think he had us all worried with his violent mantra repeated throughout. Mark Weinman gave a fantastic performance as Lisa’s boyfriend. He created a performance that carried the play through it’s narrative. I can’t gush enough about the acting here – it was incredible.

I think I should mention that the themes of this play are bold and daring and horribly close to home. We deal with sex, playground politics and a nobody whose mantra is a list of school shootings. The cast navigates these beautifully. There are laughs in amongst the general electric foreboding. I don’t think anyone left the theatre in the same mood they came in. Thought provoking and tense throughout, I strongly recommend you get a ticket before it closes on the 21st.

 

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