Monday, 2 October 2017

Review B

by Guillermo Calderón

Rebel, Rebel

To B or not B, that is the question at the centre of Chilean playwright's Guillermo Calderón's absurdist comedy drama.

 Two young women anarchists, Marcela (Aimée Ffion-Edwards) and Alejandra (Danusia Samal) rendezvous in a borrowed apartment ready to make a token protest against a nearby financial institutution.

Each, it emerges has a backstory, making their revolt against the state a more serious affair than their seemingly inept steps towards rebellion.

However, while their bickering turns to the ridiculous, the arrival of a ultimately more devilish partner-in-crime (or liberation, depending on your point of view) ultimately pushes the story towards tragedy rather than comedy.

In spite of the duo's disavowal of any kind of hierarchy, the older masked stranger (Paul Kaye) pulls rank, claims their plan needs his approval and orders more extreme action.

In the meantime, ambushed by a nosy neighbour Carmen (Sarah Niles), the women concoct inconsistent stories on the hoof to explain their presence and to keep her away, in vain, from their preparations.

B appears to be a small play straining allegorically to cover large swathes of Chilean, South American and Spanish history, alongside an international perspective.

However, in the end, the play falls between  a number of stools. It states rather too emphatically the differences and connections, benign and malign, between two generations of would-be revolutionaries.

More interestingly, at one point it seems to start to touch on the generation gap and the nature of packaged artistic creation in an increasingly globalized world.

Even so, it lacks the courage of its convictions and becomes what is seeks to criticize -  a dead end world tips over into a dead end drama.

Each character at various times has a monologue to explain their motivations linked by expanded two, three and four-handed scenes.

The action takes place on Chloe Lamford's stone and plywood set, caged in scaffolding, and festooned with black balloons. There's also  a neat trick with t-shirts (albeit there appear to be how-to videos on the internet - don't click on the link if you don't want a spoiler).

However there are moments when Sam Pritchard's production feels as if it has become a little too enamoured by visuals such as the masks, the black balloonsm a red and white striped gift box and other quips.

Taken at face value (B is translated from the Spanish by William Gregory), it remains a play of separate parts, speeches and jokes rather than a rigorous exploration, comic or serious. 

All in all, this is an "almost" play. A would-be political and artistic allegory, "This is supposed to be a party. Good story though."

It's also an terrorist satire where secret code insures nobody calls a spade a spade. A drama where an attempt to use the media short circuits and the only appreciative audience for the aspiring revolutionaries appears to be the prison population.

A comedy where a pen is misused but even then does not fulfil the skewed function to which it's put. The self-appointed terrorist chief literally becomes a talking head speaking at times in the rhythms of Once In A Lifetime and the young women intermittently sound like some anarchist Alias Smith & Jones who never want to kill anyone.

Despite some modern terrorist references, the play does have an old-fashioned vibe - it did send TLT and her motorised comrade scuttling to Google to find out if GK Chesterton, author of The Man Who Was Thursday, an Edwardian thriller about an imploding anarchist cell, is known in Chile and the Spanish speaking world.

It turns out  a conference on him was held in Chile this year. And the writer is popular enough in the Spanish language to merit a landmark copyright ruling in Spain.

If it is an influence, there's nothing wrong with using an early 20th century text as inspiration. However this is a play with an anarchic structure which never quite follows through on its scattergun lines of thought. It's an amber light.

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