There is only one cast member named in the Gate’s programme for I’d Rather Goya … but there are three performers on stage. Two of them, however, are not human.
Rodrigo García’s drama, translated from the Spanish by William Gregory, is a surreal monologue for a man in meltdown (played here with ferocious intensity by Steffan Rhodri). Driven to the edge by financial, domestic and spiritual crisis, he rails at the meaninglessness of materialism and contemporary life and plans a wild escapade with his two young sons. They will, he declares, spend what remains of the family funds on food and drink and a late-night taxi ride (in the company of German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk) through the streets of Madrid to the Prado, where they will break in and contemplate Goya’s Black Paintings (the bleakness of which match his outlook). He is exasperated by, among other things, the fact that his sons would rather go to Disneyland Paris.
The uncertainty as to whether this trip is about to happen, has happened, or exists only in the man’s whirling imagination is increased in Jude Christian’s inventively bizarre staging on Fly Davis’s set. The space he inhabits resembles an institutional cell, the banknotes he brandishes are Monopoly money, the phone he talks on is a toy model and the two sons, to whom he repeatedly refers, are played by small piglets.
These Gloucester Old Spot cross-breeds are immensely fetching animals, pottering about, grunting, snorting and squealing loudly when moved. They don’t seem entirely sure about their situation, huddling together at the side of the stage when their human co-star cranks up to full volume. And wisely so: Rhodri’s performance is a scarily volatile tour-de-force. At one point, to the dismay of the audience (and the indifference of the pigs), he provocatively wolfs a bacon sandwich in front of them (perhaps in a reference to Goya’s painting “Saturn Devouring His Son”).
It’s certainly a powerful portrait of a man raging at a system, a howl of despair at the impact of the financial crisis (do the pigs perhaps remind us of the eurozone PIGS?) and a fierce criticism of contemporary complacency. Aside from that, however, it doesn’t move very far or reveal very much. The wrath makes it hard to empathise with the character, so that despite Rhodri’s performance, Christian’s ingenious staging and the appeal of the piglets, his plight remains curiously unmoving.