eing so far from the supremacist patriotism of the United States and the PR interests of Spain, it’s easy for us to take a cool view of Christopher Columbus and his colonialist exploits. The plus and minus points of his pioneering journeys are unlikely to provoke much debate among those of us with no vested interest: cultural exploitation equals bad, Apollo space missions equals good, argument over. But elsewhere passions still run high. No sooner

had Catalonia’s Els J oglars accepted a commission from the Spanish Government’s Quincentenary Society, for example, than it i was denied space at Saville’s Expo 92 on the ' assumption that any show it created would give a less-than-favourable historical slant. Five hundred years after the event, the Columbus story is still as contentious as ever.

Perhaps we should be encouraged that theatre can still be perceived as a threat to the establishment, but whatever the politics, it’s Seville’s loss that Yo Tengo un Tio en America will not be visiting particularly after the company’s recent taunting performances just outside the city’s officially designated city walls grabbed the headlines and stirred up the debate. For director Albert Boadella, the production is a

‘0‘ Vs \‘1‘3 “““\ '.


spectacular return to form.‘Boadellastarted -‘

in the Franco years and has always been on the outside,’ explains Edinburgh Festival Director Brian McMaster. ‘He’s always been ironic and was jailed by Franco for that. The perception was that he’d gone to sleep, and then suddenly here was his new show which the whole cultural mafia in Barcelona was at, and they realised that he was still really wonderful.’

Founded in 1962, Els J oglars emerged in reaction to the un-Mediterranean formality of conventional theatre. Over the course of 27 shows, which have toured to more than a dozen countries, the company has established itself as a self-appointed National Theatre of Catalonia. Even Boadella’s imprisonment in 1977 for offending the military authorities with a show called La Torna didn’t silence the company for long. After a few months Boadella had escaped and re-established Els Joglars in exile in France. Like Els Comediants whose noisy, rude and !

5 If», ,v r I 7, Q


So taken were they with ELS J OGLARS’ mad-house look at Spain’s colonisation of the Americas, that the cultural supremos of both Glasgow and Edinburgh booked the show immediately. Mark Fisher pays homage to Catalonia.

feature stuff in the press,’ he recalls, ‘and it said that it was set in the gym of a lunatic asylum and I thought, “I don’t want to see

i this play!” Anyway I dutifully turned up.

. Ten minutes into it I thought this is so good,

‘Suddenly here was his new show which the whole cultural malia in Barcelona was at, and they realised that he was still really


dangerous large-scale pyrotechnics were seen in Edinburgh two years ago, Els Joglars’ work is characterised by an exuberant mix that merrily throws in mime, dance, music, acrobatics and whatever else seems appropriate at the time. ‘Els J oglars has long been at the forefront of cultural opposition,’ says Neil Wallace of Glasgow’s Tramway, ‘mining the rich traditions of street, language, song and dance in search for popular contemporary meaning.’

Brian McMaster saw the show on its opening night when he was in Barcelona to judge a singing competition. ‘I’d read the

but they can’tsustain it . . . and they did! It

works on every level. So next morning I went round and signed it up.’ Unaware of each other’s interest, Glasgow Performing Arts director Bob Palmer saw the show the following week, was equally impressed and helped strike a deal between the International Festival and Tramway to bring it to both cities.

Translated as I Have an Uncle in America, the show combines flamenco, circus, tribal percussion and the imagery of the mad-house to create a rich and ironic allegory. A drama therapy session for a group of mentally ill patients using the theme of the life of an American tribe before the ‘discovery’ develops into a model for real life, as patients set themselves up as tribal leaders and mistake the doctors for conquistadores. Like the native Americans,

the mentally ill are powerless and vulnerable; like real life, the boundary between sanity and madness is blurred. Out of this setting emerge themes about the mixing of blood and cultures, the imposition of religion and about slavery. And as Neil Wallace points out, this is no glib example of politically correct agit-prop, but a response by a group of Catalans to their fraught relationship with Spain. ‘For Boadella and his company members,’ he says, ‘the distinction between the Franco-inspired repression of Catalan language and culture of past decades and the post-Columbus conquest of native American cultures of past centuries is merely a question of memory and scale. In all other respects it is the same story with the same ends and roughly the same consequences.’

Y0 Tengo un Tio en America (International Festival) Els Joglars, Royal Lyceum Theatre, 225 5756, 1—5 Sept, 8pm, £5—£I5. Tramway, Glasgow, 8—12 Sept, 8pm, £4.50L£6.50.

The List 28 August 10 September 1992 9