Category Archives: Theatre Lovers

Day 19 Barcelona and Ubu Roi

 

imageMy final day was spent at Parc Guell and with this visit all my long held desires to explore Gaudi were realized. Again whimsy and practicality are forged with nature and this beautiful location captures the cool harbor breeze that eludes the town below.  Gaudi, greatly informed by the ancient Greeks, has made our world a more beautiful and happier place.

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With a few hours to go before going to the theatre, I decided I really should try to do some shopping and so I started along the Ramblas only to find the last thing on my bucket list, the Gran Teatro Liceu and I was able to join the final tour of the day.image

It really is a superb opera house in the Italian style. Privately owned for generations, it is now in the hands of the government. Its most recent refurbishment following a fire in the 1990s, has improved the acoustics, the staging, rehearsal and dressing rooms and made the previously exclusive grand reception area available for all patrons. It’s a lavish and very appealing theatre.

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And finally after a sangria and a sit down it was time to find the Teatre Lluire on Mont Juic. I never did get to do any shopping. image

As I walked amongst the charming buildings of this arts precinct to get to the theatre, I discovered the Barcelona Institute of Theatre, an establishment that has always fascinated me in that it has a specific charter to teach, research, conserve, promote and innovate Catalan performing arts. It has also hosted many significant, international theatre studies conferences.image

imageNot knowing what sort of theatre is housing Ubu Roi, I’m astonished to find myself in the 1929 Palace of Agriculture, also built for the World Fair, now with a 2000 seater conversion in high Barcelona design. Even more astonishing is that I’m in the front row.image

And the play is also astonishing. With a fine pedigree coming from an invitation from Peter Brook, Cheek by Jowl created this production in co production with The Barbican, London.

Presented in French with Catalan surtitles, this is French high art in what I would expect from  La Comedie-Francaise. Jarry’s, Ubu Roi (1896) is always open to extraordinary interpretations and while this was salon style farce in a proscenium arch theatre, it was not so much the interpretation that was astonishing but the performances  particularly of Mere and Pere Ubu. However can I describe their energy and ability to turn on a sixpence? However can I even imagine what the rehearsal process must have been like to accomplish this level of slickness and how did the director know/ imagine what these people were capable of? How did he take them to those places? What an extraordinary accomplishment.

And please remember that I’m seeing this in a language I only just understand, so for the most part I’m missing the text and seeing French chic dissolve into the madness of vulgarity and scatology and back again. Really, for acting and production, this show takes the prize on this trip. Cheek by Jowl has presented a wonderful range of classics and this is no exception. I think there were at least 20 curtain calls. The audience went wild for it and so did I.image

What a wonderful note on which to end this tour.My sincere thanks for all comments, tweets and follows. It’s been a joy to stay in touch.

The next tour? Same time, same station, 2015.

Please go to http://www.alltheworldsastagetheatretours.com for a full itinerary and to register your interest to See the World & See World Theatre. It’s a great experience.

In theater, there is nothing to understand, but to feel.
Louis Jouvert
French actor and director.

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Barcelona and the Teatro Grec


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 This started out as my dedicated Gaudi day and on arriving La Sagrada Familia, I found that not only do I need to buy a ticket, it was allocated a time when I would be admitted. Ok so what to do for two hours? So using my metro ticket I headed off to find Gaudi’s  Casa Batllo, the Rambles and the Boqueria, all of which I had spotted from the taxi last  night.  The whimsy, charm and architectural uniqueness of Gaudi is astonishing and on the Casa Battlio, I discovered that the balconies are cat faces!  image

The Boqueria on the other hand is all bustling business and practicality, but once more the displays have that intrinsic Barcelona aesthetic. I’ve never seen so much food, especially the fish and to think this is replenished every day. It is a ‘feast’ for the eye and a well deserved tourist attraction.

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It would be interesting to know just how much Gaudi and tourism contribute to this ailing economy – the cost of the continuing construction of the cathedral must be enormous. And while there, you are very aware that the stonemasons are at work.

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Once inside the cathedral, the beauty just overtakes you and Gaudi’s use of colour and form found in nature, in contrast to the richness and heaviness of gothic cathedrals, makes this one feel like a breath of fresh air. It is truly enlivening.

I have just arrived at The Teatro Grec having left Ted and Jo in the most amazing gin joint I’ve ever experienced. My gin was enhanced with grapefruit and ginger and it too was heaven in a glass.

imageAnd then into my third heaven for the day, seeing the beauty of this place after the heat and bus-i-ness of down town Barcelona. It has been a very hot day with traces of rain and just being in this elevated location on Mont Juic has relieved the oppression of the heat, or was it Victor’s Gin Palace?

imageHaving said that it’s 10 pm and the production is about to begin without any further threat of rain. However it had been sufficiently disquieting for me to put a hooded jacket in my bag – does it ever rain on Spain’s outdoor shows? I’m well used to people bringing fans and fanning away, but do they bring umbrellas? And of course people do stand in the rain at The Globe Theatre and the actors also get wet…

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imageThis beautiful ampitheatre, man- made for the 1929 World Fair, was created from a disused quarry and the whole place has a beautifully peaceful Greek aesthetic, including a lovely  garden and restaurant. The architect, Ramon Reventos, was clearly a neo Hellenist. I suspect the auditorium holds some 2000 people and tonight it seems almost full.

I’m in a little trepidation as to this production,  Batolome Encadenado, as it represents a modern version of Prometheus, billed as a tragi comedy with a chorus of actors from the Theatre Institute. Each year a writer is asked to create a text around contemporary themes in relation to  Greek theatre. With social and political overtones, this does address the economic situation as the premise for the story which deals with the theft of lower and middle class workers money by the World Bank.

imageAnd whilst the cast of young activists were enthusiastic and commited to the piece,  for me the production was enhanced by a light and sound show type of projections against the back wall of the theater. This worked really well and gave a texture to the otherwise one thing after another predictable nationalistic ardor. I will explore the genesis of this work so as not to disgrace myself as to its significance.

The audience was appreciative and all of sudden they dispersed down the hill. How will I get home I asked the hotel porter. Follow the crowd! I did just that and ultimately found myself in Avenue Parel-lel within a good stroll of the hotel.

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So a great day. Gaudi, The Teatro Grec, the Bocheria, Victor’s gin palace and catching up with Ted who I haven’t seen since May. He and Jo had fulfilled one of their Barcelona must do’s spending the whole day on the beach.

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Day 17 BARCELONA AND THE GREC FESTIVAL

imageArriving late in the evening from Madrid, in the morning it was great to find how conveniently my hotel is situated among the arts centre of Montjuic and many of the cultural sites of the city. All within easy striking distance once I got my Metro ticket and my bearings. With several objectives to round out my previous Barcelona experience, this visit was planned around the festival, followed by sightseeing of the National Theatre of Catelonia,  Gaudi, the Gran Teatro Liceu, the L’Auditori and then some. image

The festival is so named after the Teatro Grec, an ampitheatre also located on Montjuic and while it specializes in contemporary theatre, its international reputation made it a must see for me.

The exciting thing about Barcelona, is that you can turn a corner and there is some significant monument or building that you’d read about or always wanted to see.

Simageo for me, on day one, it turned out to be the Bullring and the Bullring Museum. Why wouldn’t one important cultural activity be in the same area as the others? And I stumbled across the bullring on my way to find the NTC. image
Both were equally impressive. I found the theatre workshops before I found the theatre and then discovered that the whole thing takes up a block in the area devoted to culture. It is huge! Also en route I found the Auditori for music events   – again huge, with a terrific horse, a restaurant where the arts crowd eat, and where I had my first Barcelona speciality, fideula, and the Barcelona design district, enfant,bn.

The spires of  Sagrada Familia are  very present on the landscape so I jumped on the metro to make a recce and after seeing the queue for admission decided that this would require a dedicated, early morning excursion to actually get into the basilica in under an hour or three.

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So that was day one, rounded off by a production of Pinter’s Old Times at the Sala Beckett in a very elegant part of town. image
How to get there? Two metro changes and a walk…I didn’t think so and so more I added to my ownership of Barcelona taxis.

image The Sala is cute, very cute, but the playing area is very challenging and so was Pinter for the Spanish cast. Working  on a raised stage, running the width of the room, our eyeline was at crotch level with the three actors and their closeness to the ceiling was very disconcerting.image

I love Pinter and I think that playing this one on the floor with the audience raised around the actors, might have been an improvement. In other words we all  would have been in their space retracing our old times.
The Sala Beckett is dedicated to experimental theatre. It provides space and courses for young writers,  and specifically promotes contemporary drama, and it was certainly worth the effort of two taxis.


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Day 16 Toledo

image Still in La Mancha, Toledo is yet another unique world. And that’s what I love about Spain, each town and region has its own unique identity. Toledo celebrates not only the unification of three cultures, Arab, Christian and Jewish, but of course El Greco, and for me, the Teatro Rojas, the Red Theatre.

Set high on a hill with splendid moorish architecture, a city of small winding streets and seemingly a million visitors, especially in this celebration year of El Greco.image His work is scattered in a variety of locations and with the El Greco map in hand, you negotiate the labyrinpth of callas and vias and plazas ever hopeful that you’ll arrive in the right place soon. This must have been the hottest day of the summer heat wave and escaping into the odd church or museum was doubly useful.

imageThis Casa is a reproduction of El Greco’s house and gives an idea of Toledo architecture and El Greco’s world. It has great charm and serenity.
The Theatre Rojas, named after the Toledo playwright, Francisco de Rojas is an example of the continuing tradition of theatre in this city. imageBuilt in 1879 on the original site of a 15th century traditional Corral des Comedias, it has it’s own imposing presence just behind the cathedral.
Sadly for me it was closed, but I was just happy to be able to make the link.

Please enjoy the rest of the photos if this fascinating city.  Next stop, Barcelona.

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Day 14 Almagro

 

imageToday was spent organising logistics. How was I to get to Toledo and Barcelona and even more pressing was to get to the ‘Cervantes Windmills’ and the bulls?! image

Through an unexplainable series of synchronistic events and meetings, my dream was about to become a reality. And in addition to that I was invited to go to the nature reserve, Tablas de Daimiel National Park, another dream come true. Such kindness and generosity exists amongst theatre people – I was even offered two cars to use! And although I’ve driven in Spain before, the stress of getting there and getting lost, let alone the stress of a borrowed car was more than I wanted to contemplate.

My Caballero came in the form of the Almagro Deputy Mayor and Councillor for Culture, Gerano Geran Garcia, who graciously offered to take me to the windmills tomorrow, while the outing to the nature reservation was from Salome Bielsa, another theatre
festival employee. The hilarious thing is that Salome doesn’t speak English and my Spanish is totally embarrassing! Anyway we set off at 6.30 pm still in the heat of the day, for this remarkable wetland that has been chronicled since 1300. The curious thing is finding this wetland in the midst of these vast yellow plains  and where there was continuous habitation by one family for over 300 years.

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Salome is a keen photographer and wanted to photograph the ducks and bird life. The hides located throughout the park are perfect for photography and Salome got some great shots using the telephoto lens on her smart camera.

imageMy dear iPad, was not able to cope with such photographic challenges – or is it the operator? Please enjoy what my 21 century box brownie was able to capture.

However, for truly stunning shots, here is Salome Bielsa’s flickr link: https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/bambolia/sets/72157634673113526/

Then of course back to the main square for dinner in the comparative cool – 11pm – I’m really very fond of the tapas and beer and el fresco lifestyle. Thank goodness I don’t have a job to go to after these late nights!image

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ALMAGRO and the International Festival of Classical Theatre


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imageDespite the early morning train and a long but comfortable journey, arriving at the deserted Almagro station felt like a homecoming.  With ease I was able to walk to the centre of town and find The Almagro Parador. The cool comfort it offers feels like an oasis in the desert.  Almagro is in Castille-La Mancha which is pretty much in the centre of Spain. I just love it. It is the wide yellow plains of Don Quixote, with evocative architecture, specialized manchegro cuisine, bull raising, and unique hospitality and friendliness.

imagePredictably another wonderful gin and tonic, then quickly into ‘town’ to get a ticket for tonight’s show.

I am greeted by Laura who I met last year and even though the show was fully booked, I did manage to get a ticket for the Compania Nacional de Teatro Clasico production of Donde Hay Agravios No Hay Celos by Rojas Zorrilla. The approximate translation of the title is, Where There is No Jealousy, There is No Grievance.
imageAs the name of the theatre company suggests, this is the National Classic Theatre Company and is based in Madrid. Its’ charter is to preserve and present theatre of The Golden Age  and each year it takes up residency at Almagro for the festival and performs in the beautiful outdoor auditorium at the Teatro Hospice de San Juan.image The director, Helena Pimenta is very well regarded and the very stylish and slick production I saw last year made me a big fan.

A return to the Parador, a beer, a snack, a bath and a nap to get ready for the 22.45 start. Very civilized indeed and then people still go out for drinks and tapas afterwards, the main square is full of activity and the craft market operates over the weekend. So both tourists and local artesans are well catered for.

image This rarely performed play was quite a contrast to the high camp sophistication that  I saw last year and instead presented the rakish adventures of a country caballero and his buffoon, Sancho. When considering the location of this festival, there is an irrepressible charm associated with the choice of this work.   Basically, it’s a let’s swap identities story that reminded me a bit of Don Giovanni, in a rural setting. The set and costumes were appropriately rustic: again, a stark contrast from the high glamour of 2013. The execution of the piece was very imaginative with a piano accordion as a musical accompaniment that served to link scene and lighting changes orchestrated by one of the female actors with some captivating moments that made me look forward to her every entrance just to change a scene!

What I derived from this production was the superb use of language. The language of The Golden Age is exceedingly difficult High Baroque and I was very aware of the vocal coaching provided by Vincente Fuente, whose vocal workshop, The Way of Verse, I had attended last year. Overall the tightness of the company in executing the piece was the stand out which is all due to the masterful direction by Ms Pimenta.
As it transpires, and for a range of circumstances that will become apparent, this is the only show I saw in Almagro and it was an exceedingly fine example of The Spanish Golden Age. It also embodied the lovely lifestyle experience of being in Almagro during the festival, and yes of course, I was able to help the local economy by getting a couple of things at the craft market.

For Salome Bielsa’s truly evocative photos of Almagro go to
https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/bambolia/sets/72157606164312650/

 

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Merida and Flamenco

imageimageI have still to determine whether it is more expedient to get to Merida from Lisbon or Madrid but the Lisbon experience certainly is a good one, so maybe I’ve answered my own question.

By road the trip took some 4 hours, arriving in Merida in the close down period in the heat of the day. It is a terrific city stemming from its Roman origins in 2AD when Augustus gifted it to his army and proceeded to build a wonderful monument to himself. The colosseum and other ruins, including of course, the Roman Amiptheatre are extraordinary and well worth a once in a life time pilgrimage to see a show here. image

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The Merida Parador, with its own collection of Roman artefacts recovered from the site and now decorating the garden, is a part of the unique accommodation chain throughout Spain that has converted historic buildings into the most wonderful guest experiences. History, art, architecture and high local cuisine all come together with impeccable hospitality.

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With only one night in Merida and making sure I was on the only train to Almagro early next day, my main focus was the performance.

Part of the Classical Theatre Festival of Merida, this show had only two performances, and when playing to a 5000 people full house, you probably don’t need more than that.

image This Flamenco artist, Sara Baras is internationally renown for her choreography and originality. When visiting the theatre in the afternoon, I was there for some of the band sound check and quite an impressive band it was, 6 pieces including three flamenco acoustic guitars, cello, two percussionists and synth.

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Medusa is a gory tale of the beautiful gorgon with snakes for hair and the ability to turn people to stone if they gaze upon her.
Perseus pursues her and to avoid her gaze, he is given a mirror shield by Athena, winged sandals by Hermes, a sword from Hephaestus and Hades helmet of invisability. He uses the mirrored shield to reflect Medusa’s image and then cut off her head. Ultimately the head and the shield depicting her head are gifted to Athena. It is believed to be an evil- deflecting device.
Apparently at that time, Medusa was pregnant by Poseidon and when Perseus beheaded her, Pegasus, a winged horse, and Chrysaor, a golden sword-wielding giant, sprang from her body.
That there is so much written about Medusa from mythology, psychology, the feminist movement, etc just illustrates the mystique and intrigue about this character and of course her image shows up again and again, particularly in connection with Ancient Rome.

And so to the performance. At 10 pm I joined the eagerness of the 5000 queuing to get into the ampitheatre for the 11.45 show on this deliciously balmy full moon night. Having an allocated seat helped enormously and suddenly there she was in a swathe of swirling white, with her husband, Jose Serrano playing Perseus.

I’m not quite convinced about the story telling technique, with a non dancer narrator wandering through the set at pertinent times, but the flamenco element was all consuming with the highly vocal, highly appreciative audience breaking the moments with their applause and bravos.
The encore was as stylish as the rest of the performance with each of the main dancers doing a routine.
I love flamenco. I love the expertise developed over years and years of training and I love the arrogance of the dancers which seems to say, ‘take that!’ And the audience howls their appreciation and along with them was hugely appreciative Aussie.
At 1am I made my way back through the equally excited sporting fans of Merida because Germany was playing Argentina. That excitement continued in the streets until sunrise at 6am. What a lively night, Ole!

 

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Lisbon’s Almada Festival

imageThe Almada Festival, although in its 31st year, is little known, even in Portugal.

Unable to book online and hopeful of something I wanted to see because of the lateness of their program publication, I was told by my hotel porter to just turn up. There was however something I really did want to see and that is La Reunification des Deux Corees, a French production by Joel Pommerat, a writer/director who had been invited to spend some time with Peter Brook.
Arriving at this festival location there is a hubbub of activity, outdoor dining and music and a very gracious and committed crowd of festival and theatre goers. This festival is quite unique, as is the island of Almada, which had an independent identity from Neolithic times  to comparatively recently.

My instinct tells me that this theatre developed as a result of the 1970’s political activity, but I have yet to confirm the activities of Joaquim Benite after whom the main theatre is named. It certainly seems to have its roots in socialist democratic activities.

On turning up at the Box Office, it’s a subscription festival and I was in a queue for a no-show ticket. But I’ve come from Australia for this! It was full last night, so don’t worry you’ll probably get in! Two performances only!!!

So off to have a beer, a snack and to calm my nerves. I’m constantly surprised by the variation of prices – this beer and little meat pie for €2.50 compared to a taxi ride of €20 illustrates tourist high need and high prices. This taxi driver wanted to drive me to my next destination, Merida, for €1000! My express bus ticket is €13.00.

Outside on the terrace to indulge this new found economy, but, alas, no table space. While I was quite willing to stand and people watch, the English speaking, German customer in the queue before me invited me to take his table. Thank you, but please stay here with me. Have you come especially for this festival? So have I. And so starts a lengthy conversation about festivals we have been to and our desire to see this show. When I tell him I couldn’t get a ticket, he disappears to the box office and returns with a ticket for €15.

Stefan Schmidtke, as a co-artistic director of the Vienna Festival, is responsible for the drama programme, and is here to view this show for Vienna 2015. He travels the world looking for product.  It transpires that he is very knowledgeable about the state of Australian theatre and how comparatively impoverished it is from the lack of the type of government support that exists in Europe. However, he was most complementary about the  success of Simon Stone’s The Wild Duck in Vienna in 2013.

Stefan was of course the ideal theatre companion and we sat together in the show. And what a great show it was. We had both agreed that theatre in foreign languages that we don’t understand can often determines the quality and effectiveness of theatre and this was no exception. Presented in French with Portuguese surtitles and without an interval, this was a tour de force on scenes from heterosexual relationships. Sometimes it was high French film comedy and at others kitchen sink tragedy, plus the use of many other theatrical devices including a high camp chanteuse, the arrival of carnival dodge ’em cars, all delivered with the slickest/seamless technical transitions I have ever seen.

To explain the title, The Reunification of the Two Koreas, is a metaphor for the geographical/political tension that exists in relationships. To further the metaphor, the space is divided in a bi frontal set up in which the audience is looking at each other over a transverse corral. It is most effective and facilitates the elements of surprise so imaginatively orchestrated with lights and sound.

This show is an outstanding piece of theatre. The actors, mostly mature, are relentless in their energy and versatility in taking on a range of characters that just keep adding layers to the theatrical premise. I’m sure Stefan will pick it up for Vienna, (he was off to talk to the production manager, while I went to find a cab) and we can only hope that it makes it to Australia perhaps for a Melbourne International  Festival. However, I can’t see the Arts Centre using its stage for the presentation at the expense of it’s 2 thousand seater auditorium. At Almada, the show was presented on the stage of the very beautiful Barbican-style theatre. And this show would never work in a conventional set up. Sadly for me I won’t get to see a show in the theatre proper on this occasion but I will definitely return to the Almada Festival  to see more of this style of work. And sadly, too, I was so caught up in the immediacy of the unfolding events, I did not take one photo! So this post has a collection of random Lisbon and Cascais shots.

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And this is what this travel is all about, seeing the world and seeing world theatre. And although I have deliberately chosen to see fewer shows this year, so far the things I have seen have been stand outs.

Tomorrow I travel to Merida to see a Flamenco version of Medusa in the Roman Ampitheatre. It too is sold out and I’m expecting it to be outstanding.

 

 

Lisbon


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Lisbon is an extraordinarily beautiful city. The wide boulevards  and the beautiful pavement decoration is very enticing. And so too is the Portuguese charm. Not having a word of Portuguese, I bought a dictionary at the airport and pressed on from there.

My hotel is situated among the designer stores, all of which have sales and whether it was my lowly status as a tourist or whether it is store protocol, I was not pounced upon by eager sales personnel. I’m a hopeless shopper, and never seem to have enough time to do it properly, so my loss, I probably miss out on some great bargains.

The flight into Lisbon was late so I could only just settle into the hotel with the best g & t ever before going on my pre arranged tour of Lisbon followed by dinner at a Fado restaurant, and what an experience that was.imageimage

The tour was useful in quickly contextualising the city, but the Fado was truly wonderful. With 5 different singers and 2 musicians, it seemed like an extended family of bohemians who have managed to serve the local as well as the tourist market without losing authenticity. And with the women singers in particular, the fado form was everything I could hope for.

Dinner was traditional food, potato soup which was very good indeed, followed by 2 fishy dishes or a steak dish. My fishy meal was huge and when questioned as to why I hadn’t finished it, I had to pantomime my limited capacity rather than offend the proprietor by any inadequacy on his part. The wine flowed and so did the music, song after song, occasionally joined in by a chorus from the kitchen. For me this was one of my most memorable experiences.

Sadly the lighting prohibited good photography, but here is the chanteuse to die for and her partner/owner of the establishment. image

Day 7 Epidavros to Athens


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This is the last morning of freshly squeezed orange juice from the orchard, the sound of cicadas and the greeting of the great orb of the sun across the sea undisturbed by buildings or other trappings of 21 century modernity. The comparative simplicity of this place is seductive while my sophistication screams is this all there is? It is curious that on a quest to discover theatre, I have found that theatre has become a part of that sophistication. Emanating from the heights and simplicity of the Peloponnese, theatre today has mostly become a big city phenomenon. But that’s another discussion.

Leaving Ancient Epidavros en route to Nafplio, I again passed through Lygourioimage and was able to spend some time in the natural history museum. It certainly contextulised the mineral wealth of Ancient Greece, which in turn financed wars as well as architectural and other development. Lygourio, situated in the ancient kingdom of Lessa, is purported to be of such antiquity, that it was from its mountain top,’ that the last fryktoria lit to deliver the message of the fall of Troia…’

Descending from the Peloponnese into the gracious harbour city of Napflio is a gradual re introduction into the sophistication of Greece despite the constant reminders of the past with not only a Venetian fortification in the harbour, but also another immense fort- like edifice on the mountain behind the town.
Significant as being the first capital city of Greece established by the First National Assembly in 1821 which voted for a democratic constitution, it is very beautiful indeed. image

From there a bus ride to Athens and instant immersion into the hustle and bustle of this vibrant and enthralling city.

The Fresh Hotel, a comparatively new and ultra modern architectural and design establishment, has a Barcelona feel of clean lines and colour in comparison to some of the 4 stars which are very indulgent and charge for wi-fi! And besides, the Fresh is just off Athinas, which is a great street and links Omonia with the Plaka, and Psiri is just parallel to it. So it’s a great area as I hope the photos will show.  It really is foodie heaven!

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imageSpeaking of shows, the festival offering that got my attention (and my Euros) was a German symphony orchestra with a Mozart and R. Strauss programme happening in the Odeon of Herodus Atticus. A fabulously balmy evening in the open air Roman theatre, it was an appropriate rendition for those patrons rushing off to see Germany play in the World Cup.

imageBeing in this auditorium was a first for me and was worth the rush to secure a ticket. And once more I just love post-show Athens. The ability to wander the streets, to grab a taxi, or just keep walking in this beautiful heat until a bar/ restaurant grabs your eye, seems quite unique.

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Just now I’m sitting in the rooftop bar with an almost full moon overlooking the Acropolis.

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I’ve spent the day indulging myself with shopping and taking photos. Oh, I did go to the Fish Spa for a foot massage and to feed the fish! A very welcome respite from the walking.

It’s been a great day and now this evening I pack up again in preparation for Lisbon tomorrow.

 

Day 5 Ithaca to Epidavros

 

You’ll notice that Day 4 disappeared as one spent in total relaxation around the pool, a walk to the beach, some exploring in town and then an evening meeting with the woman I had shared a taxi with, Tula. We sat by the harbour drinking ouzo while she told me of her life on Ithaca and elsewhere. Of interest to me was her experience of the 1953 earthquake which decimated Kephalonia and greatly damaged Ithaca. She said it was night time and she was sleeping outside because of the heat and all of a sudden the ground shook terribly and she woke up somewhere else – the whole ground had shifted. She was 15 at the time. As a result of this, the houses in Vathi are all new although on my walk yesterday I did see some stone dwelling ruins. I’m certainly interested to follow up on this when I next get wifi.

No wi fi this morning as I’m on the ferry back to the mainland.Ferry? It’s more like an ocean liner cum international aircraft.

Another early start with a taxi at 6.30 for a 7 am ferry. All is well and as we descend the hill down to the harbour, I ask the driver how much? 15. What, 15 for a 5 minute drive I think to myself. Perhaps there was an early morning premium and then as he started to drive out of
Vathi I started to get really nervous. Where are we going? ferry? Waving my ticket in his face. Yes, yes. And up and out of the town with spectacular harbour views in the early morning light, more winding roads and now at 6.45. I express my dismay at the time, and he noticeably steps on the gas.

The arrival at the harbour clearly displays why the ferry is in a different harbour – the thing is huge! And now as I’m at Kephalonia watching petrol tankers, buses and even a concrete mixer come on board, I think for those people challenged by flying, this sort of cargo could be quite anxious making.

At Kellini,I get off this ferry and take the onboard bus to Patras where I collect a hire car to drive to Epidavros and see Euripides Helen at 9.15 this evening.

And by the way, this round about route to get to Patras is a result of the austerities and the failure of the ferry company to upgrade their internet information. Just as well I went to book my ticket some days in advance and with the assistance of Yanna.

The ongoing journey was quite hilarious with the taxi driver from the bus station to Avis trying to convince me that the road was terrible, winding, over mountains, and much too hard for me and that he would do me a very special price of €250. I showed him my Avis agreement for 4 days unlimited mileage for much the same price. Can’t blame him for trying. While the drive was long and I kept heading for Ancient Corinth rather than Epidavros, the roads were no more difficult than any country driving we have in Oz.

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Ancient Epidavros is on the Saronic Gulf and another of those dream locations. The Heleni Hotel is set among orange groves, opposite the beach and the host really went out of his way to tee me up with the theatre people staying here. There was a classical theatre summer school led by a Professor from the University of Athens and a cultural tour leader from Germany. Both very good contacts for me.

As I didn’t want to drive out to the ampitheatre on my own, I joined Jens group for the play, which I enjoyed enormously.image

imageI knew it was to be a modern interpretation and held my breath as the actors in contemporary garb, each with an amp box on wheels, were performing curious acts of physical theatre. But as the play unfolded, I liked it more and more, as each of the actors, about 8 of them, were a tight chorus and stepped out to take the variety of roles. And to my delight they did perform the humour of the piece. They kept very close to the original text and while the English surtitles were useful, it did distract t my attention from the subtleties of the physical theatre performance. The sounds emitting from the amp boxes added a terrific layer to the piece and the chorus unison work was astounding. So all in all a very worthwhile experience for me. Although on returning to the hotel last night there were quite a few detractors of the interpretation and of course, they all have their points of view and so I grabbed a glass of wines and called it a night.

It had been an incredibly long day and a most rewarding one. Thank you Euripides, thank you actors and director, thank you Epidavros and thank you Athens/Epidavros Festival. image

Day 2, Sami to Vathi

Too nervous that I would miss the only ferry from Sami to Ithaca, and putting my fate in the hands of an early morning taxi driver, I awoke early, packed and paced in reception. The little English speaking concierge made me a coffee and I paced some more. Still no taxi. Can we call the taxi and see if he is on his way? A few minutes more. The ferry is leaving later this morning.

Little comforted, I finished the very good coffee and enquired where I buy the ferry ticket.
There, at Sami.
Oh great. A late ferry, rushing for a ticket and still no taxi.
Finally a shining silver Mercedes arrives and off we go. The driver also tells me the ferry will leave later today. They were, of course, all correct.
The ticket man had not even opened his shop and I had a ninety minute wait till ferry time. So a leisurely breakfast in a free wifi restaurant on the waterfront, connected me with the world and allayed my anxiety.
When the ferry did arrive it spewed an array of vehicles ranging from garbage trucks, buses and bicycles and eagerly consumed an equally colorful cargo including my favorite, an old ute full of onions and garlic. From this I learnt that virtually all food on Ithaca comes from elsewhere.
And then the journey across the Ionian Sea from the biggest island to the smallest which took about 40 minutes only. Again the disgorging of the cargo at a very dismal port,Pisoaotos, and another taxi ride up and over the mountains to the capital, Vathi.
My companions this time, a Nona and her 12 year old daughter from New York, returning to Ithaca for the summer. The sublime beauty of Vathi can only be described in comparison to the plainness of elsewhere, and here at last was my imagined Odysseus’ Ithaca. Or is it Homers? Much speculation remains as to the authenticity of the location and Ithaca is totally disputed by the larger island of Kephalonia.
For me, upon arrival at the Odyssey Apartments high on a hill and overlooking the harbour, my Ithaca adventure had begun.
A long stroll along the waterfront revealed a bust of Homer, a statue of Odysseus, the same sort of tourist traders as on all the islands, and the three bars that constitute Ithaca’s nightlife. This is far from a tourist mecca: too hard to get to, too expensive, and a life of simple origin that flourishes only in summer.
My hosts deserve a mention for they have indeed welcomed me with a level of companionship that makes the life of a solo traveller rich and rewarding. The apartments are superb and the view from my window and terrace has shown Vathi in all her moods. The intensity or subtlety of the colours and the changing temperament of the wind and sea is totally captivating.
Today I made contact with a Dutch woman, Ester, now a resident on Ithaca, who conducts walks on the island. Incidentally this contact came from Anna in Australia through her cousin Erika in the north of Ithaca to Ester one village away from Vathi. The upshot is that tomorrow I can join her on the Homer Walk. Sadly for me the walk starts at 8.30am in a village a 25 euro taxi ride away, which, with the cost of the walk and a return taxi fare (there is only one bus per day) it is quite an expensive exercise. But worth it I think. In an ideal world I should have hired a car to give me more access to the remainder of island but my plan was to rest up here and not have the anxiety of driving on the right side of the road and the stress of getting lost!
But the gods smiled on me and my host, Ari, suggested that his beautiful wife, Yanna, take me in their car and that Yanna join me on the walk – something that she has always wanted to do and good pr for their business and for Ester’s. Joy oh joy!
And so another quick meal by the harbour and to bed to get ready for my next Homeric adventure.

Sami WaterfrontCaptain Corelli's, SamiIthaca BoundVathi HarbourHomerOdysseusThe WaterfrontFrom my Balcony

Day 1 Melbourne to Sami, Greece

Day 1 Melbourne to Sami

It’s 5.30 am and somewhere in the distance cocks are crowing. And while it is still dark outside, the gentle breeze wafting through the open shutters stirs my thoughts to Homer, Odysseus and of course to being here on Ithaca. To get to Ithaca, one really wants to be here. It has been quite a 21 century Homeric quest, that for me, started in Melbourne over a year ago when I met an Ithacan at a New Year’s Eve party.

With a deep interest in place and its significance in literature and in particular, Greek tragedy, I was compelled to make the metaphoric homecoming to this island in the Ionian Sea. In comparison to the ease with which much travel is accomplished, in many ways it has not been easy. Ithaca is not one of the big tourist islands. It is small and it’s inaccessibility,compounded by the Greek government austerities, make the journey somewhat epic.
Leaving the wintery squalls of Melbourne behind, the comfort of Etihad airlines provided me with many hours sleep on the Abu Dhabi leg, while the greater comfort of a sky bus into Athens, also afforded the opportunity of more relaxed companionship.
It is not surprising that many of the passengers were of the Greek diaspora, returning home. My seating companion was a first generation Australian of parents from Lesbos. He is undertaking a double degree in Engineering and Law at Monash. A vitally interesting young man with sound world views, a vast range of knowledge and a profound sense of purpose, he provided me with a sense of security for the future. Already on the Deans List, his humble background as the son of an immigrant Chicken Bar proprietor, evoked the manner in which the Greeks have traditionally dispersed their culture and values for the good of humankind. For deeply entrenched in Greek culture is the notion of living the best life and all that that entails. As an Anglo Saxon, it presents a very different perspective to me. Mine is a world of restriction, the Greek world seems to be one of expansion premised on aesthetics, hospitality, logic and trade. For without trade, Ancient Greece, like modern day Greece, could not survive. As a seafaring mercantile nation by virtue of its geographical location, Ancient Greece not only serviced its empire and beyond with goods, it also provided the culture of civilization and the ideal of the best life.

Enter Homer, with his fantastic tales of war, godly interventions and upsets, divine justice and right conduct. Written some 400 years before the great Greek tragedians immortalized the sagas and characters on the ancient stage, Homer is credited with shaping the Ancient Greek spirit of humanism, including the notion of honor and noble death.

Curiously, my reading material on the plane was Euripides’ Helen, the play I will be seeing at the Epidavros ampitheatre at the end of the week. Totally immersed in the reason for the Trojan Wars, the narrative depicts a fantastical ending to the saga with Menelaus finding Helen in Egypt – and I still have to find out who kills who at the end – a really great read!

But of course within that context is the Odyssey and Odysseus’ journey home after the Trojan War. Bearing in mind Odysseus’ initial objection to go to war over a woman, Homer places him in many ‘womanly’ situations which have led to much speculation over truth, faithfulness, duty and human urges. (Remembering that it was Odysseus who delivered the Trojan Horse.)

Continuing on from Athens in a light aircraft, the flight not only provided more examples of the Greek equivalent of Bon Accord, through the delights of the flight attendant, but the physicality of the flight took me across the Peloponnese with the starkness of the Spartan mountains (Helen of Troy was a Spartan) and deposited me on the island of Kephalonia. From there a 60 Euro taxi ride, up over the mountains and down into the seaport of Sami (of Captain Corelli fame). And then you come out of the mountains and see the sea and Ithaca is directly opposite. She looks like a shrouded jewel beckoning you.

That was Day 1, concluded by an evening meal at a taverna on the waters edge, a walk back to the hotel in the pitch black of night in a village without street lighting, and preparations for the early morning departure on the ferry for Ithaca.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theatre and Space

Theatre and space traverse the distance of the everyday.

Thinking on the nature of the theatre space and its’ impact on performance and the audience, in the first instance I always look for the beauty. Beauty feeds the soul. It is colour and form and tone and gesture. It is inherent in the grand gesture of nature as in grand opera that stirs the emotions with its opening phrases or in the vast landscapes of a Tolstoy novel. In their profound wisdom, the ancient Greeks combined nature and landscape within the theatre space and with the added exertion of making the pilgrimage to the sacred site, theatre lovers would enter the liminal. Whatever happened after that, by way of performance, was duty-bound to traverse the distance of the everyday. To transport the audience to places, emotions, rarely encountered.
Historically theatre architecture preceded that of cathedrals and yet the evocation of awe is the same. Two great monuments to art that have been featured on television recently, Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia and the Sydney Opera House, both provide me with that sense of the liminal, of entering alternative space, a place where I may be transmuted from the cares of the everyday, a place where I engage with other or the sublime. After all isn’t that the reason we go to a Cathedral or to a theatre? But let’s stick with theatre just now because I’ve had some really interesting theatre space experiences recently.
Over drinks my dear theatre friend, David Adamson, commented on my European theatre travels and suggested that it was the drama of the theatre spaces that contributed to the richness of the experience. And indeed on reflection that is so. The Epidavros Ampitheatre, the open-air Corral in Almagro, the medieval Teatro Francesco Torti in Bevagna, a village near Spoleto, and even the factory site spaces in Athens mightily contributed to the tenor of the theatre works.
In my thesis From Ancient Greece to Glenrowan etc, I included the element of place but my attention to the space was more directed to our cleverness in converting a community hall into a theatre space. However, the conversion was intentional in creating a sense of the liminal and with great dollops of creativity and volunteer man power, the transformation was affected. Great design work by Peter Mumford.
And this brings me to two of my recent theatre space experiences. Room of Regret based on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (devised and directed by Emma Valente) was an offering of The Melbourne Festival. Staged at Theatreworks in St.Kilda, the space was converted into a labyrinth of small rooms into which the audience members, veiled in curtain fabric, were ushered and instructed to sit upon the waiting stools. Actors appeared somewhat randomly in the small rooms and did beautiful work. They were truly beautiful in their posture, gesture, vocal delivery and ecstatic eroticism, but for me, the space defeated the majesty of the production. Hidden away in a corner, veiled, and deposited on a stool except when I was invited to dance in an orgiastic sequence, there was no sense of space. No opportunity to connect with or truly experience the wonder of the grandeur of gesture or tone and while I can appreciate the notion of closed Victorian spaces and what goes on behind veil curtains, my sense of wonder was replaced by a sense of frustration, irritation and audience abuse. In my reflection, I wonder if the piece would have been more suited to in-the-round or traverse staging where the audience could also have the ‘in your face’ experience the direction mandated. Sadly, for me, this production was unable to traverse the distance of the everyday.
A more successful use of space was the National Theatre’s Macbeth. Once again I made the pilgrimage to the Nova, Carlton to see the HD relay of Kenneth Brannagh’s production.
Expecting a traditional production, imagine my surprise when I discovered it to be in a disused church in Manchester. The nave was transformed into a traverse setting with the sanctuary, a highly appropriate playing area. The balconies, and even the windows, are used to great effect from whence the Witches, Banquo’s ghost and Lady Macbeth deliver their immortal passages.
But back to the traverse, which resembles a muddy racetrack, imagine the audience involvement being adjacent to the numerous real sword wielding battles, the first of which takes place in rain! Yes the turf did become a quagmire and yes the actors strutted through the muck, died in the muck and lied in the muck. This was theatre space from heaven…pardon the intended pun. And although I was only a cinema viewer, I was there in the muck and in the awe of the liminal. If only I’d been there in person. A wonderful experience indeed, where theatre and space did traverse the distance of the everyday.

Autopsy of a Dream

<blockquote><p><a href=”https://twitter.com/abciview”>@abciview</a&gt; this is a marvellous programme thank god the footage was found and that the sydney opera house exists.</p>&mdash; brenda addie (@theatretravel) <a href=”https://twitter.com/theatretravel/statuses/392286528740679680″>October 21, 2013</a></blockquote>
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Almagro Day 6

SEE THE WORLD AND SEE WORLD THEATRE

Almagro International Festival of Classical Theatre, Almagroff, Golden Age of Spanish Theatre, Fuenteoveojuna by Lopes de Vega, El lindo don Diego by Moreto, Fuentovejuna by Lopes de Vega, the Castile – La Mancha countryside, Almodovar’s village, Caldaza de Calatrava, Volver

This was a wonderful day and almost as if I’d be saving the best till last. In preparation for my drive to Merida tomorrow, I had to go back to Ciudad Real to collect the hire car before 1.30. Once again I headed to the Almagro Estacion and made the 15 minute trip by fast train. As I needed to familiarize myself with right hand side of the road driving, I decided to do a bit of sight seeing before returning to Almagro. I started off in the heat of the day and as I was driving (well getting lost really) around Ciudad Real, I saw a very big market. And the best thing was that it had stall after stall of fruit and vegetables! I left with bags full of goodies.

From the market I went to several special sites including Alacros, a medieval town, military stronghold, which included the Knights Templar Order of Calatrava, and a battlefield, against the Moors. Close by is another historical medieval sacred castle and monastery called Calatrava La Nueva which the Knights of the Calatrava maintained.

Just exploring these places enabled me to contextualise the period of chivalry in this province of Castile-La Mancha that so inspired Cervantes. Looking at the broad, empty landscape (and not a windmill in sight) one can appreciate the journeys of Don Quixote (with his squire, Sancho Panza) and his quest to do right.

Another curiosity is that Calzada de Calatrava, the village at the foot of the castle, is the birthplace of Pedro Almodovar. When he was 8, Almodovar was sent to boarding school in Caceres, Extremadura, which is in the Merida area of Spain. His film,Volver, is based in and around Almagro and I was reminded of the opening scene when each day I noticed the women in Almagro scrubbing the brick work, window sills and pavements of their houses. Of course Almodovar is exceedingly famous now and he lives, and has his production office, in Madrid, but it is interesting to connect any artist to place.

While I was in Caldaza, I stopped in a bar for an ice cream, and there I saw a local Bullfight on TV. I am greatly attracted by the theatricality of Bullfighting and have resolved to go to one. Madrid of course houses the main bullring but as it is a seasonal activity I will need to plan for it on another trip. Although, I’m not averse to a municipal bullfight like the one I saw advertised in Ciudad Real.

Before going to the theatre in the evening, I was able to include a visit to the Museum of Theatre. What I found extraordinary is that the museum is a huge building at the end of the Plaza de Mayor
in a small provincial town. While it may be true that Almagro values the tourist influx associated with its’ festival, I also suggest it is equally true that it also has the greatest respect for its theatre history and the history of theatre in general. This museum focused on theatre memorabilia, ephemera and costumes. And sadly for me, its’ opening at 6 pm meant that I had very little time there before going to catch the bus to Teatro La Valete. This museum is another place to which I’d like to return.

This production Lopes de Vega’s, Fuenteovejuna, was a perfect blending of old text and contemporary adaptation. I am told that it has been in the company’s repertoire for some two years, and that certainly shows in terms of slickness, wonderful ensemble work and a real commitment to telling the story.
Set out of doors on this beautifully balmy evening, the play unfolded with all of the well known elements associated with this piece. Despotism, municipal corruption and abuse of power, community fear, torture on the rack, the ultimate resistance by the community and hubris of the Corregidor was handled in the manner of modern day activism, sort of a class action approach, with appropriate slogans, chanting, a petition and enlistment of supporters, to no avail but a totally concerted agreement by the whole town that ‘Fuenteovejuna made me do it.’
Each actor excelled in representing the various characters and situations as well as working well with the audience to gain its support for the cause. It’s a marvellous play, which I encourage people to read. And at the end of it, I couldn’t help but feel it was an appropriate choice given Spain’s economic difficulties at the moment.

The second play of the evening was totally superb. El lindo don Diego by Agustin Moreto, was for me an example of everything The Spanish Golden Age of theatre stood for. Performed by Compania Nacional de Teatro Clasico, it was a triumph of style, theatricality, wondrous period costuming, innovative, economical, stage design and beautiful execution of the verse on the part of the actors. (Once again trained by Vincente Feuntes.)
This is a play of foppery and narcissism, a twisted plot of suitable social status for marriage and the ultimate humiliation of Don Diego, who realizes that it is only his extravagant appearance that has suffered.
I’m very regretful that I was not able to get some worthwhile photos during the production and the scanty curtain call photos do nothing to indicate the triumph of the piece. I had certainly left the best to last and that in itself made the Almagro experience intensely rewarding. I look forward to the programme next year and put out a challenge to some Australian actors to consider a classic to perform there in 2014.

I was sad to leave Almagro, I had been with some terrific people and the experience of immersing myself in The Golden Age of Spanish Theatre in a ‘ golden age’ location was not only rewarding but has left me wanting to know more.

Almagro Day 5

SEE THE WORLD AND SEE WORLD THEATRE

Almagro International Festival of Classical Theatre, Almagroff, Historia del Loco Cardenio by Shakespeare y Fletcher, Quevado at The Corral de Comedias, Golden Age of Spanish Theatre

This was the last day of the workshop and I’ve attached some photos of the class, some of the group at lunch, and our feet under the table. It was a marvellous experience for me and to meet and go to theatre with Vincente Fuentes was a very special privilege. I would love to bring him to Australia to do a workshop on verse and his method of teaching voice…who knows?

Before I went to the theatre, I went to a beautiful exhibition devoted to the development of theatre scenery and Lantern shows. The history and artistry involved in creating the images for projection was fascinating and the exhibits made me aware of the craftsmanship involved in creating these exceedingly detailed, highly coloured miniatures which ranged from children’s stories and nature to mythological and religious subject matter. In addition to see models of sets for theatre and opera productions in Madrid from the 18c really excited me. Once again, it puts the craft of theatre into context and the respect that Spain accords to its theatre tradition. Sadly there were no photos allowed, but I gather that this was a travelling exhibition from Madrid and there was also a documentary about famous actors and their equally famous costumes which certainly came well into the 20c. Truly, as the Almagro Festival had so much to see apart from the theatre productions, it was very hard to find sufficient time to do it all and I’m really sorry I didn’t get to see any of the children’s theatre, Barroco Infantil. I did however meet the Festival Director, Natalia Menendez, and was able to express to her how her title for the festival, The Colour of the Classics, and her warm introduction to the programme had enticed me to make the journey from Melbourne. I believe the classics are the soul of theatre and my coming to terms with classics from another culture has been a very rewarding experience.

Historia del loco Cardenio at Teatro La Veleta was another valuable experience in introducing me to the existence of a play by Shakespeare and Fletcher about the Story of the Cardenio in Don Quixote. Vincente told me the text is wonderful and so I will make a point of discovering this for myself when I get home. My google research indicates that this is one of those plays around which scholars are divided about the authorship.

At 10.30 pm the Plaza Mayor was buzzing. As people were queuing to get into the Corral de Comedias, a fire twirler was attracting much attention while at the other end of the square an artisan market was selling everything from pickled delicacies, finely crafted ceramics, glove puppets, jewellry, children’s clothing and a spruiker was announcing the beginning of his puppet show.

As the crowd swelled we surged into the Corral with the canvas puled back to reveal the full moon and to allow some breeze into the stifling night. The crowd was so excited and so was I. And I too, had become accustomed to taking a fan with me to see a show!
Quevedo was not a show I especially wanted to see, but I did want to see the Corral in action. Of course it was completely full. The play took a cultural tourism look at Quevado’s work and I got a sense that it was dealing with notions of justice and reason. He too, had been a most prolific writer and raised issues about theology and justice. A rather tricky thing to do during the period of the Inquisition.
Francisco de Quevedo – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_de_Quevedo
The play was a 3 hander with a tourist guide cum nun setting the story and then Quevado and another nun discoursing about his works. This was very difficult for me to follow as it seemed quite philosophical and with just one man in a bed, scraps of paper everywhere and two nuns trying to keep him well and fed, on this occasion my lack of Spanish completely defeated me. I did however achieve what I set out to do and that was to see a performance in the Corral. I am sorry it wasn’t a rollicking, bawdy piece of nonsense.
But it was a wonderful experience just to be in the space.