Experimental feature

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Experimental feature

For the London premiere of this vivid piece of theatre, performed in Spanish, Colombia’s Teatro La Candelaria has completely reconfigured the layout of the Pit. Gone are the rows of seats; instead the show is performed in the round, with small banks of seating arranged to make the playing space octagonal. Separating the banks of seats and completing the octagon are shrines to saints – I was seated right next to a battered, bald goddess dripping with artificial flowers and candles. The floor is covered with fallen autumn leaves. Characters are dotted about, muttering to themselves.

The effect is to make you feel instantly part of the action, as if you are assisting at some strange ritual, an impression that is reinforced when a bizarre procession of odd, gaudy and desolate figures enters. Santiago García Pinzón’s powerful, beautifully executed production uses a ritualistic style to portray contemporary Colombia as a sacred-space-cum-marketplace, in which religious icons and rites vie for attention and beliefs, traditions and superstitions jostle for supremacy. Caught between those traditions are the people most in need, those trying to heal the pain of grief or despair.

The spotlight shifts in turn to various disturbed characters: a distraught woman clutching a baby; a frantic transvestite wielding a photograph; a perturbed man in a loud silk shirt; a woman with a trolley full of photographs of people who have disappeared; an angry punk; a staggering drunk. They seem to seek solace from the kitsch shrines and figures plying comfort: from a Shaman who rattles his bells and bones; from a Christ-like figure who attempts to walk on water; from a fabulously ornate Pope. And every now and then the shrines react, with the statues coming to life. But the relief is short-lived.

The piece is shot through with dark humour. In between lighting his candles, Jesus swigs from a bottle of coke; the Shaman has to break off his rituals to answer his mobile phone. But the overwhelming mood is one of unresolved pain and the overwhelming impression is of characters desperate to be free of their past. There is hope, as the ritual ends with them relinquishing their burdens and leaving them in the centre of the stage. But the final moment goes to a ghostly businessman, caked in white, who walks silently and mournfully in a shaft of light across the crowded stage.

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