Reviewed – 27th September 2018
“a love letter of sorts to the Spanish Civil War”
War is not a concept we are unfamiliar with. In this world, there is always one country battling with another. Or, more tragically, one country with two opposing sides fighting each other. José Sanchis Sinisterra’s 1985 play, Ay Carmela! is a love letter of sorts to the Spanish Civil War, highlighting the terror and devastation that conflict leaves in its destructive path.
Paulino is alone in the dark of an empty theatre. Left with his thoughts and imagination becoming more vivid. Outside, the Spanish Civil War is still raging on, General Franco and his men are storming through Spanish towns, liberating them one by one of the communist-driven Republicans. Paulino was once part of a travelling, two-bit, music hall double act with his outspoken partner and lover Carmela. They found themselves caught behind enemy lines of Franco’s Nationalist party. They were forced to put a performance together, for both troops and prisoners, which ended in fatal circumstances, and replays in Paulino’s mind constantly. With the metaphysical appearances of Carmela, it is never clear whether this is in Paulino’s mind or a fantastical occurrence.
I would be interested to have seen this production in the original Spanish (which is performed on different dates throughout the run). There are elements to the version I saw that did not click which may be due to the translation (John London) to English. Certain phrases didn’t sit quite right and the style at times came across too over dramatic and hammy. In the Spanish language, this might have come across differently. As surreal and absurdist as the piece is, with many similarities to the work of Samuel Beckett, there are still moments that lacked clarity, or, more unfortunately, are just a little lacklustre. A good ten to fifteen minutes could have been shaved off in places.
Ivanhoe Norona as Paulino has certainly to be commended for his natural comic timing. His slapstick antics are sometimes reminiscent of the silent movie age. He tries to balance this with a more nuanced display of emotion, for intimate scenes, yet it is noticeable that the comedy is where he feels most comfortable. Madalena Alberto as Carmela is a vibrant force when present on stage, offering an innate chemistry between herself and Norona, bickering like an old married couple.
Enrique Muñoz, head of sound and video, did an excellent job in projecting black and white footage from the civil war onto the stage floor, enabling someone like myself, with no real knowledge of the conflict, to get a greater appreciation of its atrocities.
Ay Carmela! Is a highly allegorical play that illustrates the human price we pay for war. A symbolic depiction of the fear-mongering time of the civil war. Perhaps when you do not have a full understanding of the history of the Spanish Civil War, and combined with an English translation, which I imagine has lost some of the poeticism of the Spanish original, the play can be a slow and difficult to follow at times. Nevertheless, the cast and crew put together a production that is difficult to fault.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Cervantes Theatre until 13th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: