Nuria Espert was born in Barcelona in 1935 the year before Lorca was murdered during the early years ofthe Spanish Civil War. He fell victim first to right wing fanaticism and then after his death. to the censor‘s suppression when the Nationalists won in 1939. As a child. Nuria remembers his work as something totally forbidden. ‘No one could speak about him. There was nothing in the newspapers. nothing on the stage. no books in the libraries.‘ It was through her father. himselfa keen amateur actor. that she first made contact with his work. He brought home a book of Lorca‘s poems produced in Buenos Aires and spent ‘all his night‘ copying them. an act of private homage. He taught them to the little Nuria who could recite them at four and five years old. ‘I didn‘t understand anything!‘ she says. laughing at the memory.
Artistic censorship took its toll in Spain. In the late 60s a company there played Yerma on stage for the first time since Lorca‘s death. It was. says Nuria. ‘a great professional — not artistic— event.‘ Professional possibilities in theatre had been severely restricted and the main dramatic organ when Nuria was beginning her career was the government controlled National Theatre which produced comedies and little else. ‘My husband thought that I was a dramatic actress. a tragic actress and that perhaps it was
possible to have another company. our own group and do it our own way.‘ They started the Nuria Espert (‘ompany in 1959 when she was 2-1. beginning ‘very slowly. modestly. and humbly‘. Within four or five years it had become very popular. ‘In the (10s we were very strong. It was not just an artistic company. it was a political one. The texts were. amongst others. Brecht. Sartre and Lorca and our social and private behaviour became a little mixed with artistic behaviour. Political and artistic ideas became one. ()fcourse that was possible because we were more and more strong and they (the government) were more and more weak.‘ After Franco‘s death in 1975 the clasp of censorship was released and ‘a big. marvellous avalanche of Lorca arrived everywhere around the country.‘ She is therefore delighted. and perhaps not a little surprised. that Lorca‘s plays with ‘this difficult. dark. black text‘. have been so well received in Britain. The British actresses she worked with in London included Glenda Jackson. Joan Plowright and Patricia Hayes. and if there was a gap between them and Spanish ideas it was in their way ofworking. ‘We Spanish approach the work in an emotional way. The first thing to arrive are the emotions.‘ She gestures emphatically from her solar plexus. ‘Out. out. out. and then you become calm. After that. if you are intelligent. your mind puts
everything in place and helps you to be stronger and deeper and good.‘ This was not the English experience. ‘They start with their minds. First they understand the thing and slowly go to the emotions. Then in the last instance. to the instincts. [don‘t know if it‘s so different for you‘ she continues. ‘but for me it‘s like black and white.‘ She takes her comparison further. generously offering the observation. ‘but I think if you take a marvellous Spanish actress and a marvellous English actress. both with equal ability. the English actress is deeper than the Spanish. Yes. Plus profondo.‘
Nevertheless she found amongst Bernarda‘s cast a great desire to receive something new. "lheir attitude was ‘come. come. bring us something. We know we are marvellous actresses. but do you have something new to give us‘." “l‘o work more directly. she abandoned the services of a translator after a few days. prefering to work with gesture and example where she couldn‘t use words. It was evidently a very fruitful relationship. ‘I was very very happy in this work‘ she says simply.
As a female director Espert knows she is an exception. She laughs at the reputation she has acquired for doing female-orientated pieces. Both Yerma and Madame Butterﬂy take women as their central characters and Bernarda Alba has an all female cast. It is half accident. halfdesign. ‘They ask these characters of me. and I do them because they ask.‘ Iler feminism is pro-opportunity rather than anti-men and in no way strident. ‘I love men. ofcourse. I‘ve been married for 30 years — to the same man‘ she says. amused at the thought. ‘()n American television when they show a woman in an important place. she is as bad as a man. trying to be as strong as he is‘.she strikes an aggressive pose. ‘I-ike your Prime Minister— she‘s trying to be a man all the time.‘ For Espert however. ‘it is not necessary to think about it constantly. It‘s a fact. I am here an exception. I am not one ofthe many who are doing this work all the time. But it‘s no more than that.‘
The most accessible ofoperas. Madame Butterfly is well-known for its oriental setting. (‘haracteristically. this is the aspect which interests Nuria least. ‘Everyone who does Butterﬂy talks about that — so that‘s settled. Forget.‘ She puts it to one side. ‘I‘m interested in her. her feelings and her life.‘ In Puccini as in Lorca she feels ‘thc tenderness. the understanding. is all for women. Madame Butterﬂy is not about a man‘s world. Its a very feminine world and it seems to me that it can be shown in a different way by a woman director. I think I‘m capable offinding something new.‘ Butterfly‘s story is one ofsacrifice. loyalty. betrayal and suicide. and she will not be played in Nuria‘s production as the wooden blushing Japanese geisha as she so often is. Espert has set out to ‘make a woman of her‘. A woman who can move and dance and be happy ‘and not this sort
ofdoll who I‘ve sometimes seen on the stage and who is not a woman suffering. This is not interesting for me!‘
For Espert ‘the texts which don‘t allow you to speak about today are dead.‘ She needs to take a character and believe in it. "l‘his story is about one woman as millions and millions of women are. It‘s a real story. and unfortunately. a contemporary one."l‘he conventions of a story may change. but the ideas remain. albeit ‘with different faces‘. It is this deeper reality which she wants to realise.
For her there is nothing complicated about Pinkerton. Butterflys American husband. l le marries Butterfly in Japan. leaves and returns with another — this time American — bride. ‘Pinkerton is stupid and Puccini explains that perfectly" says Nuria. ‘l lc loves her at the beginning and after that‘. she snaps her fingers. ‘it‘s finished. He leaves and he forgets.‘ Puccini is often credited with having given his dramatic structure as much time and significance as his music and Nuria elaborates this theme. ‘Puccini wrote a line at the beginning of the play when Pinkerton says. before Butterfly appears. ‘one day I‘ll marry an American woman.‘ Its not necessary to look for some difficult and intellectual explanation for him‘. she says holding her temples in mock-angst. ‘Puccini wrote that. and I think that‘s enough. This line explains all the play for me. Always. in art. the simple is the best. Always.‘
Being a director has. she feels. made her a better actress. She has played the full spectrum ofclassical texts from Euripides to Brecht. and has taken on as roles both I lamlet and Prospero. Prospero was ‘the most difficult thing I ever did. The play itself ism difficult.‘ She suddenly becomes quiet. ‘At the end of Prospero‘s part there is something very old. very strange. as if something is lost. as ifsome pages of the text were lost. Something happens there.‘ While she admits to having been confused by ll all the time. she was nonetheless. ‘very very happy with this work. Not with the results. I‘m not saying I was fantastic. but I was very happy to have had the courage to do it in this honest way.‘
(ienerous with her praise l'or' others. she is also very giving of herself. (‘ertainly there is no sense that she would hold anything back from her work. Significantly. l.orca is so important to her because ‘he has this extraordinary facility to communicate' and. more than that ‘he brings the possibilty to contact myself.‘ Its a very direct contact. in which self—consciousness has no part and which unquestionably seeks excellence. As she says of her attitude to an invited director. ‘I take you because you are the best. Now
you must help me to be better. You are paid to take the best of me.‘ Madame Butterfly will he (he S'z/iw- Jubilee I’erfbmiam‘e at the Theatre Royal. Glasgow 5 June and at the Theatre Rnyulrm I/tejolluu'tllg dates: 28A,)ril; .3. o. 8. .30. May; Blane and at the King‘s Theatre. Iz'rlmlmrgh. 24 and27June
The List 17 —A 30 April 7