Monday, September 25, 2006

Brilliant Socialist Theatre

Two years ago, Steve Trafford authored the really great play about Maykovsky, “A Cloud in Trousers”. I wrote a review of it at the time, and interveiwed Trafford. The interview is very interesting and worth reading.

It is therefore excellent news that Trafford has translated and adapted the classic Spanish play, “¡Ay Carmela!” by Josè Sanchis Sinisterra into English. It is currently playing in York, and the
reviews are good. Writing in the British Theatre Guide, Julie Atkinson says, “Sinisterra's two-hander … presented translator Steve Trafford with a challenge: how to do justice to the author's poetic yet colloquial style. Despite not being a fluent Spanish speaker (he freely admits to using a literal translation, a French translation and Spanish and French dictionaries), Trafford succeeds brilliantly. The ear quickly becomes attuned to picking up his clever but unobtrusive use of alliteration and internal rhymes, yet the dialogue never sounds contrived or self-consciously "poetic" - quite an achievement in a work so strongly influenced by the work of Samuel Beckett and the Latin American tradition of magic realism.
“Elizabeth Mansfield, who co-founded Ensemble with Steve Trafford, is ideally cast as Carmela. As well as giving a wonderfully funny and moving performance she also has a thrilling singing voice which is used to the full in several musical numbers. Robert Pickavance gives a tour de force performance as the harassed Paulino, in comparison with whom Basil Fawlty is positively laid-back. The couple perform their flamenco routine with real panache and their interaction, both "on-stage" and behind the scenes, has the easy familiarity born of long experience. It's easy to believe that these two have been working together for years.”

“¡Ay Carmela!” was filmed in 1991 starring Carmen Maura, and concerns the fate of a Republican theatre troupe who stray behind fascist lines during the Spanish Civil War. They are arrested, and fear a firing squad, but they receive a reprieve from an Italian Fascist commander who loves the theatre. He arranges a performance for his troops, bargaining with the actors that they stage a burlesque mocking the republic in exchange for their freedom.

This theme of the relationship of the individual artist to facsism is of course reminiscent of
István Szabó’s brilliant 1981 film, “Mephisto”, but the wider issues of artistic responsibility are also familiar territory for Trafford himself. He was a founder in the 1970’s of the Red Ladder theatre company but now earns his living writing for television. As he says: “We are in a … set of contradictions. Mayakovsky says "All art serves, either as we dream the world can be; or as the world is, contributing to more dust settling on our hopes." You are caught in that trap aren't you? What are you contributing? Attempting through your art to shift and shunt the way in which the world is moving? And artists today I think feel incredibly marginalised by commercial art.”

“A Cloud in Trousers” explored the difficult position of the explosive genius Mayakovsky and his responsibility to continue artistic rebellion even as the walls were closing in on him through Bolshevik conformity. ““¡Ay Carmela!” concerns itself with the closely related dilemma of whether artists should stay true to their beliefs or should bow to pressure and allow their talents to be used to serve reactionary goals.

These are serious questions, Trafford is a brilliant playwright, and the Ensemble company, including the extremely talented Elizabeth Mansfield, are performers of rare ability. It is a joy to see such first class socialist theatre being performed. Make sure you go and support this play.

“¡Ay Carmela!” is showing in York till 30th September, then Darlington, Bolton, Leicester, Farnham, Tunbridge Wells, Frome, Chipping Norton, Beetham, Shepperton, Taunton, Halesworth, London Shaw Theatre (7 to 18 November), Cardiff and Cheltenham.

Worth adding for those in London; The tour will include a gala evening on November 7th, at the start of the London run at the Shaw Theatre, in association with the International Brigade Memorial Trust, celebrating the heroism of men and women from all over the world who volunteered their lives in the fight against fascism.


Louisefeminista said...

Actually I am glad to see reference to the film Mephisto as it is an excellent film and won best "Foreign Film" oscar in 1981. Probably Gustaf Grundgens (who Mephisto is based on)is best remembered in Fritz Lang's film M as Schraker, the gangster.

There is also reference to him and his connection to fascism in a fulsome biography on Fritz Lang (published 1999/2000). Fascinating read nonetheless.

Sorry.. I was digressing a bit. But I haven't heard reference to Mephisto in ages.

AN said...

I think Oberst Redl was an even better film than Mephisto.

Louisefeminista said...

Wasn't there 2 remakes of Oberst Redl? Maybe wrong. I like Mephisto and it was probably one of the first films bought for the library collection in my previous job. We also had Oberst Redl as well.

Louisefeminista said...

Though István Szabó is a bloody impressive director.

Renegade Eye said...

In the US, the San Francisco Mime Troop, has been doing political theater, for decades.

AN said...

Hi Renegade.

The word "mime" fills me with dread - images of marcel marceau. But perhaps it means something different over there.

Looking at their web-site, it seems SFMT are an agit-prop theatre group. I am not a great fan of the sort of theatre where the art is subordinated to the political message.