Saturday, 22 September 2018

Beasts - Theatre Review

What: Beasts
When: 19 - 30 September 2018
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Juan Radrigan
Directed by: Jaime Wilson-Ramirez
Performed by: Camilo Cortissoz, Alejandra Marin, Natalia Nazir and Samantha Urquijo-Garcia
Design by: The Bridge
Sound by: Abraham Dunovitos
Video and stage management by: Luis Gaitan
Samantha Urquijo-Garcia, Alejandra Marin, and Natalia Nazir
It is always exciting to see the stories of other cultures played on Melbourne stages, and even more so when they have the authenticity of being performed and produced by that same culture. Beasts, which is playing at La Mama Courthouse until the 30th brings us all of that authenticity and satisfaction even though the story is one of great pain and desperation.

An English adaptation of the Chilean play Las Brutas by Juan Radrigan, Beasts is the dramatisation of a real family of three sisters who lived in an intensely remote community in Chile and were found hanged one day in 1974 tied together and hung from a rock with their dogs, their goats slaughtered on the ground below them. No one will ever know what really happened, but there were rumours of ritual suicide and of government interference (it was the era of the Pinochet regime and human rights atrocities were not uncommon at that time).

Radrigan is a writer who focused on the plight of the poor and the disenfranchised. He lived through the poverty and hyper-inflation of the Allende communist regime and then became long term unemployed upon the installation of the Pinochet dictatorship which, despite it's so-called redemption of market forces, was itself experiencing hyper-inflation and heading to a second depression in 1982.  Whilst not in the depths of the recession, Radrigan's Las Brutas hit the stages in 1980 and the tone of hopelessness and endless endemic poverty are very much a mirror of his lived socio-economic history.

Radrigan tries to imagine what those last months and days must have been like for those women. Emerging from a harsh and uncompromising winter, Luciana (Nazir) looks forward to Summer, but as the oldest sister, Justa (Urquijo-Garcia), says "It ain't ever gonna not be Winter". There is a lot about this play which reminds me of Chekhov's Three Sisters, in particular Luciana's yearning to be somewhere else, to have something else, to escape...

The Quispe Cardoza sisters had a remote goat farm at least a couple of days by mule from any form of society. Contact with people is rare and the only real thing to look forward to is the travelling salesman Don Javier (Cotissoz), who comes to their farm to trade with them in the warmer months. Don Javier is a dangerous man though, because he brings hopes and dreams and a modern world of money, governments, and electricity. Luciana sees these as wonders, Justa knows they are threats, and Lucia has no fight left in her anymore.

Wilson-Ramirez has directed Beasts with a heavy air of fatigue. Directorially the suggestion is it is fatigue and hopelessness and an inability to adapt which kills the women. Whilst this creates a powerful piece of theatre, I am not so sure this is the play Radrigan has written.

There is back story to the women's isolation. Whilst there is the contemporary social commentary about poverty and the socio-economic changes Chile was experiencing, these women are so remote they don't know what "Mr Government" is, or what money is, or what electric lighting is despite it being 1974.

The issues influencing these women are much more primal. Their isolation was more than one would expect in this era. It emerges there was a rape and a betrayal by their father's business partner, and it becomes clear - at least from the point of view of Justa (and possibly their father when he was alive) - that withdrawal and isolation is their solution to prevent pain and reduce fear. In the case of these sisters, the isolation they rail against and bemoan is self-inflicted and Don Javier is a mechanism to demonstrate this as he tries to sell them pretty clothes and invites them to a party.

The dangers of peer group pressure also come into play and there are echoes of Lord of the Flies in how Justa uses Lucia to quell and control Luciana into living this lifestyle she does not want. At one point one of the sisters says "We are the beasts" and it is this feral quality I am missing from the production. Even just the slightest hint would help us understand why Luciana, at least, doesn't work harder to engage with the outside world she dreams of. It is not distance which keeps them isolated, it is the will to reach out.

Having said that, Beasts is a magical night of theatre with the ghosts of people long past haunting the stage along with the characters in the play. I really enjoyed the sound design by Gaitan. Some really creative and non-literal choices bring us moments of dissonance which are not in any way out of place, but bring us back to our thinking mind to consider what it is we are seeing and how it is all coming to pass.

Beasts is a somber piece of theatre, but it is a great show which has been very well considered and produced. Beasts is unlike most of what you will see in the Melbourne Fringe Festival this year and I personally welcomed the change and also the depth of story and ideas. I will say there is a content warning and if you have issues with depression make sure you have access to your support network.

4 Stars

No comments:

Post a Comment