Despots to discos
Tea-time starts here, as Miranda France talks to Declan Donnellan about his National Theatre production of Fuente Ovejuna.
Fuente Ovejuna is one of those great plays that touch a chord because you know that they have one foot in history. Lope de Vega. who wrote the play in 1619. was inspired by an event that really happened in 1476. in a small town where the notoriously spartan Calatrava army was posted on the orders of Ferdinand and Isabella. the unifiers ofSpain. In Lope‘s version. the people of Fuente Ovejuna bow under the grim feudal system handed down to them by the Calatrava Commander until one oftheir number. Laurencia. is raped by the despot on her wedding day.
Then comes a mighty revenge: the villagers rise up. murder the
Commander and — this is the inspiring part of it — everyone shares the responsibility for his death when the Inquisition executioners arrive to root out a culprit. All they will say is ’Fuente Ovejuna did it‘.
Declan Donnellan‘s production of Lope’s famous play was first performed in 1989 to unanimous approbation, critics applauding the cast’s vitality and verve. For Donnellan it was just another feather in his distinctly continental
director’s cap. Ever since he and designer Nick Omerod set up their company Check by Jowl, they have been determined to present European classics that are all but ignored in Britain. Donnellan blames what he calls an ‘academic fiefdom’ for the oversight. ’To a certain extent these works have been seized upon by academics who see them as their own territory,’ he says. ‘Anyone who expressed an interest was growled off. When we wanted to do Racine’s Andromache, for example, they said "but you can‘t translate Alexandrines!” ‘
The highlight ofthe revived tour has been staging Fuente Ovejuna at Expo 92 in Seville. Donnellan was nervous about presenting the Spaniards with an English version of one of their favourites — ‘talk about taking coals to Newcastle’ — but the audience loved it, even giving their curtain call in ﬂamenco hand-claps. The Fuente Ovejuna delegation who came to see the show doubtless enjoyed it too. They have little now to remind them of that famous event 500 years ago, apart from a Lope de Vega disco in the centre of town.
I Fuente Ovejuna (Festival) Royal National Theatre, Assembly Hall. 225 5756, 18 Aug—5 Sept. 7.30pm. Sat 8.30pm (also various matinees), £5—£15.
l The agonising over which suitably I I l
disenfranchised group would form the
final partofJeremyWeller’strilogy has r
been concluded by a work which otters an exploration of the realities and stigmas of mental illness and whose title, as predicted, manages a lull rhyme with Glad and Bad.
Mad continues in the style of earlier Grassmarket Projects, creating an improvisational urgency and emotional brutality by basing its story upon the true experiences of a cast composed of non-actors as well as professionals. It’s a technique which has produced critically successful theatre but has also aroused suspicions that this success was due more to the voyeuristic urges of a liberal audience than the issues of homelessness and crime around which the previous productions were formulated.
Actor David Hodgson is aware that such an attitude may exist. ‘When we did Glad there was always this tear that people had come to see a freak show,’ he says, ‘and possibly with Mad it will
be the same, but I don’t think anybody
. , ,x/g
leaves the theatre feeling that, because the audience is confronted and made to question their own motivation for being there.’
This turning of the tables on an audience is something Weller deliberately sets out to achieve in his writing. ‘I play around with such notions,’ he says, ‘because people are curious to take a sneak look into a world they couldn’t ordinarin see, to check that they’re not going towards these worlds. So yes, there’s a voyeuristic element, but it’s in the hidden parts of society where the truth
is, because that’s where we put all our dirt and shit. And if you look under the carpet that’s where you’ll find both the underpinning and also where our lives are.’
In making his plays into a more democratic medium, Weller has been led to employ traditionally cinematic techniques on the stage, using short scenes which lead to a rapid climax and are then suddenly cut to switch the action to a dillerenl location. It’s the type of theatre which doesn’t require a degree in semiotics to understand, and allows the full run of violent energies the subject otters. ‘People who go to the theatre all the time are blown away by the shows, and people who’ve never been to the theatre in their lives are totally involved,‘ agrees David Hodgson.
‘Theatre is for everyone,’ insists Weller, referring both to the audiences ordinarin driven away by ‘heritage theatre’ and to those social groups whose voice is articulated so rarely upon the stage. ‘Everyone has a right to theatre.’ (Stephen Chester)
Mad (Fringe) Grassmarket Project, Leith Theatre, (NOT as listed in Fringe Programme) Tickets Fringe Box Office or one hour before performance, 12-29 Aug (not Sun), 7.30pm, £7 (£5).
Mark Fisher skips his tea to pick out five ol the best early evening shows. I Sean Live Mr Hughes. he ofthe plastic telephone and that infectious way ofsaying bye-bye. turns up for a short run with his autobiographical ramblings and Irish charm. Ifyou liked the TV show. you‘ll love this. Sean Live— Presented by Gilded Balloon Productions (Fringe) Queen ’3 Hall (Venue 72) 668 2019, 18/I9Aug, 7.30pm; 18, 19, 2] Aug, 10.30pm, £7.50 (£5).
i x v.
I The Guid Sisters Glasgow‘s Tron Theatre takes Edinburgh from two sides with its excellent Good playing in the International Festival and this Fringe revival of its accomplished all-female comedy specially translated from the Quebecois of Michel Tremblay. The Guid Sisters (Fringe) Tron Theatre, Assembly Rooms ( Venue 3) 226 2428, 17—22 Aug, 6pm, £7.50/£8.50.(£5.50/£6.50). I Ubu Somewhere between Delicatessen and Bottom lies this hour-long two-person reworking of Jarry‘s Ubu trilogy by France's NADA Theatre. Ubu (Fringe) NA DA Theatre, Theatre Workshop (Venue 20) 226 5425, I4 Aug—5 Sept, 7. 45pm, £6 (£3 .50). I The Big Tease Or. as one continental punter put it. The Big Tits. Doing for (30-00 girls what Glad did for the homeless. Bad did for borstal boys and Mad will do for psychiatric health patients, Jean Findlay‘s show crosses the boundary between real life and theatre. See feature. The Big Tease (Fringe) Grassmarket Project, Calton Studios. 24 Calton Road (558 3581), 14—29Aug, 7pm. I 7 (£5 ). I Schippel C.P. Taylor‘s reworking of a Carl Sternheim class comedy opened to rave reviews at Greenwich Theatre and now joins the many Taylor plays in the Festival. Schippel (International Festival) Greenwich Theatre Company, Church Hill Theatre, 225 5 756, 17—22 Aug, 7.30pm; Wed and Sat mat 2.30pm, £8/£12.
The List 14— 20 August 1992 35