CASA 2012: Latin American Theatre and Performance Comes to London

By | 09 September, 2012

While access to Latin American plays is not entirely unheard of in London, this year’s CASA Latin American Theatre Festival is a rare opportunity to see the work of several young and exciting companies, many making their UK debut.

Performed by Ana Cordelia Aldama, and written and directed by Emilio Urióstegui, the Anima Teatro production La Periodista (The Journalist) pays tribute to the estimated 67 Mexican reporters who have been killed, and the others who have disappeared, due to escalating violence since 2006. Aldama’s character is meant, in some ways, to represent not one but many journalist as she claims: “I have no name, I am the journalist”. In La Pediodista, Aldama’s character has discovered some unsavoury information from her interviews of prisoners and guards, and although the information is never published, she is imprisoned. The play flashes back and forth between her life in the prison cell to stories of those on the outside. These stories are chaotic, fragmented, and often humorous, but nevertheless reveal undercurrents of oppression and confusion. Aldama’s relentless performance is coupled by an evocative soundscape featuring the harrowing and mechanical sounds of prison, secret sexual exploits, and even a singing flea choir.

While the narrative revolves around the specifics in Mexico, it concerns itself with larger issues of censorship and freedom of expression around the world. And, critically, not just in cases of state-sponsored censorship but also self-censorship: What won’t we say? What won’t we do? In part the play offers an interesting metatheatrical critique on reporting, in the sense that it is a narrative that includes the stories of others, told completely through the eyes of ‘the journalist’. It appears as though censorship is no longer an issue for an imprisoned journalist and now the truth, or her imagination, are free to report (truthfully or not) to the audience. As such, it draws attention to our own reception of facts and news and to what extent censorship affects us in the UK, or America? And, importantly, what we are going to do about it?

Unfortunately, La Periodista ends it run at CASA on 9 September, but for those interested in learning more about the fascinating work of this young company they are holding a workshop on 12 September exploring their particular performance practices on the physicality of minimalism in performance.

According to CASA’s promotional materials, La Periodisita is “the heart of political theatre” in this year’s festival; however, one need to merely scratch below the surface to discover that several of the productions are raising questions about society and politics, albeit wrapped up in the trappings of puppetry, physical theatre, and comedy.

One example is the much anticipated production by the award-winning Chilean company Tyro Teatro Banda’s production of Jemmy Button. Based on real events, the production follows the voyage of Captain FitzRoy in 1830 to Tierra del Fuego where he “discovered” a young Fuegian, who would become known as Jemmy Button. Returning to England, Jemmy learned English and became “civilised” before returning to his native lands. Performers Francisco Sánchez, Pablo Obreque and César Espinoza offer a journey through song, music and incredible sound effects: a series of microphones amplify such actions as drinking tea, taking a bath and the sound of a pestering fly. The physical and musical virtuosity of the performers, coupled with the slick and comedic storytelling skills almost make light of the colonial exploitation by Captain FitzRoy. However, things turn decidedly darker in the second half of the production, when Jemmy is ‘taken’ back to England for a second time in order to be further ‘educated’ by Christian missionaries eager to establish an outpost in Tierra del Fuego. Tyro Teatro Banda cleverly juxtaposes the British “re-education” of the “savage” with accusations against Jemmy of stealing one of the mission’s biscuits. It is not until the final moments of the production that the comedy dissolves and the sense of loss and destruction are fully confronted, as Jemmy faces the audience for the first time and declares: “My name is Orundellico. This will all be forgotten, like a teardrop in the rain”.

Jemmy Button is a theatrical attempt to recover an important part of Chilean history, not merely for its critique of imperialism and colonial exploitation, but also for the very present realities of oppression targeted at the indigenous Mapuche nation in the south of the country. The production is representative of Tyro Teatro Banda’s greater mission to uncover and retell aspects of Chilean history through an alternative lens, and given their storytelling skills and sensibilities their forthcoming production at CASA, Pedro de Valdivia, La Gesta Inconclusa (The Unfinished Exploits of Pedro de Valdivia), should prove to be an educational and entertaining look at the early years of Spanish conquest in Chile. Both productions resonate with Dario Fo’s A Descoberta das Americas (The Discovery of the Americas), which presents a story of conquest in the Americas by one of Italy’s most notable playwrights and performed by one of Brazil’s most acclaimed actors, Julio Adrião. For those interested in indigeneity and performance, Dr. Sergio Miguel Huarcaya from Royal Holloway, University of London will be speaking before the performance on 16 September on anthropophagism in the context of the Discovery of the Americas.

Another noteworthy company from this year’s festival is Troupp Pas D’argent from Brazil, performing two pieces from their repertoire: A Cidade das Donzelas (The City of Maidens) and Holoclownsto. Having worked for over two and half years in developing the piece, A Cidade das Conzelas is a rare opportunity to see a performance incorporating the instruments and stories from the cultures in north-east Brazil. This dark fairy-tale depicts city of women who have been traumatised through their experiences with men, and who now have created a haven of safety and community in the jungle, killing any man who dares to enter. Troupp Pas D’argent perform the story with remarkable physical skills: tumbling, jumping, dancing and singing with stylised performances in the style of commedia dell’arte. While all the performances were commendable, Orlando Caldeira stole the show as the lone male visitor with his expressive gestures and bulging eyes at the murderous maidens behind every corner. The company continues to push the boundaries of comedy and tragedy in their second show, Holoclownsto, a purely physical and musical piece featuring six clowns on their way to a concentration camp.

There is much more on offer at this year’s CASA festival, and interested audiences should look out for the UK-Mexican company La Llorona’s production of Private Thoughts in Public Spaces and physical theatre piece Diego y Ulises by Argentinean performers Diego Stocco and Ulises Fernández. Overall, a diverse and entertaining selection of performances, music and Latin American food that would make any trip to the Oval House Theatre a rewarding experience.

Mara Lockowandt is a Theatre Director and Ph.D Candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London

More information on the CASA Latin American Theatre Festival can be found at casafestival.org.uk


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