Almagro Day 3

SEE THE WORLD AND SEE WORLD THEATRE

Almagro International Festival of Classic Theatre, Almagroff, Cervantes’ la espanola inglesa (The Spanish English), Romeo.

After an intensive day at the workshop, the evening was devoted to two theatre events.
Cervantes’ The Spanish English at Teatro La Veletta was a delight. To get to the Almagroff location one takes the community bus to the location with plenty of time to grab some agua and choose a good seat.

With the on-stage musicians, this play was an eight hander and depicts a series of convoluted episodes that result from the Spanish sacking of the English stronghold at Cadiz. The original work is a novel that was adapted to theatre for this production, and on reading a synopsis of the plot, the dramaturg did a very good job. When I was watching the play, I was reminded of a much more recent Irish play by Brian Friel, Translations, which highlights difficulties with language and I guess this is something that I have become greatly aware of this week.

For an Almagroff production, this was inventive, creative and terrifically satisfying. Imagine my delight to see (and hear) not only a harpsichord but also a harp on stage. To achieve a sense of Court costuming, the designer had used a variety of devices ranging from layers of paper ruffs attached by a bulldog clip to a Burberry trenchcoat hooked up to look like a Spanish frock coat. All the characters were colourfully and artfully attired and Elizabeth 1 made her first entrance, put cucumber slices on her eyes and then proceeded to eat them. The Court intrigue, the adventure for a young Spanish girl to go to England and her parents’ dismay at English behaviour and cultural mores was well communicated without my understanding the delivered text. And that’s what I think good theatre can do.
Music, colour, appropriate costuming, solid ensemble work and a good yarn do it every time.

Show No 2 was Romeo.
The Plaza San Domingo is a most romantic space. Seating some 500 people on open air scaffold bleachers, the Spanish architecture of the Plaza, the waxing moon and the delightfully warm night contributed to my performance expectation. I had learned that the production was an all-male 3 hander so I was definitely prepared for some significant adaptation. The stage in this space is huge. There was no scenery, just the usual black legs and a cyclorama. The plot was 3 musketeers go looking for women and some monks interfere with the process and a couple of people die. It was a jolly romp, the audience loved it. I did not. It was not in the least theatrical and in view of the work we had been doing in our workshops the sounds that were coming from the musketeers’ mouths simply hurt my ears! I discovered later that the 3 musketeers were television and film personalities and obviously their screen fame had brought a full house. Of course a Festival Director has to cater for all tastes and it is good for Almagro to have people come to the town and to help the economy. It is high summer in Spain just now, the schools and Universities are on holidays and many Spanish people travel to the country areas for a break, especially if there are festivals on.

Gradually over lunches and drinks with my workshop colleagues, I have learnt how the down turned economy is affecting people. One colleague told me about her father, a newspaper journalist, who had been an activist in the strikes, found himself without a job. He now works as a professor of journalism at a University with a salary of €500 per month. Another teacher told me he had a 15% reduction in his salary and that many people he knew had lost their houses because they were unable to pay their mortgages.
Talk also turned to opportunities for young actors and just like actors in Australia, many people form their own companies. Spain is however fortunate to have a National Theatre with both a junior and a senior company, both of whom I will see later in the week.

Vincente asked me if we had an Australian National Theatre and I simply replied, no. How could I describe the capital city rivalries and the effort and disappointment put in by Gertrude Johnston to establish such a thing only to be thwarted by the Elizabethan Theatre Trust? So, no, no National Theatre Company in Australia.

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