The Lowry Studio
On 28 January 2016
Review by Martin Thomasson
“Locus Amoenus describes our struggle to reach our own version of ultimate paradise, an idyllic place where everyday problems disappear.”
Reading this in the programme notes, I’m not sure you could say this show—devised and performed by Catalan group Atresbandes—does exactly what it says on the tin, but I expect that will cause you little sense of grievance if you buy a ticket for this accomplished production.
For the most part, Locus Amoenus (literally ‘pleasant place’) is a firm reinforcement of Sartre’s claim that ‘hell is other people’. Don’t worry though, you won’t need Happy Pills to carry you through it, the show itself provides them in handfuls (metaphorically speaking).
Three passengers on an early morning train (4:55AM, eat your hearts out, UK commuters!) have only an hour to live. They don’t know this, but we do—courtesy of backdrop text which informs us not just when but how they will die. There will be ‘no surprises’—Brechtian but not heavy-handedly.
Because, we are liable to forget our mortality and get drawn into the moment—the fun of watching these three and their antics—the text occasionally reminds us that their time is running out (particularly effective when counting down their final five minutes). In retrospect, we are, perhaps, being invited to reflect upon the truth that death can be unexpected as well as uninvited. How would you wish to spend your own final hour if you knew it had arrived? If so, we see another shadow of Brecht here—get your audience thinking rather than feeling. If this is the message, it’s a welcomed one, and all the better for the subtlety of its delivery.
Locus Amoenus is thought-provoking, inventive and persistently funny.
The lone female passenger (Monica Almirall Bartet) sits alone, her sunglasses blocking out the early morning sun, but perhaps also (as with her headphones and thumping music) keeping the world at bay. She has a backpack—more of this later.
The other two passengers—both male—sit side-by-side. One of them (Albert Perez Hidalgo) is asleep, his head resting on the shoulder of the other (Miguel Segovia Garrell). Since the two men are strangers, this is a potentially awkward situation. As so often in life, Garrell’s attempts to wriggle out of a potentially awkward situation drag them into a much more embarrassing one, as Hidalgo awakes, face down in the other man’s crotch. As with much of this show, the clowning leads us through into recognisable human emotion, as embarrassment gives way to amusement and the possibility of a burgeoning friendship. If only Garrell’s looks weren’t quite so reminiscent of Hidalgo’s dead brother. If only Hidalgo could understand Spanish (or Garrell speak English).
Batet, (following a hilarious clowning interlude with the many, many zips on her backpack) is reluctantly pushed into the role of interpreter. As you might expect, more friction and misunderstanding ensue—feelings are hurt, tempers are frayed, purposes are crossed. The ebb and flow of conflict and desire is engagingly and imaginatively constructed.
Lots of laughter emanates from a lamentably small house. My favourite episode is a quite brilliant exchange between Batet’s testy character and Hidalgo’s volatile and pushy one. This involves re-enacting an infamous incident in the closing stages of the 2006 World Cup Final. Parodying the role of Italy’s Materazzi, Batet launches a stream of abuse at Hidalgo, before inviting him (in his role as France’s idol, Zinadine Zidane) to headbutt her. You have to be there to get it—trust me, it’s worth it.
Atresbandes are currently touring the UK with Locus Amoenus. Try to catch it. It will be a thoroughly entertaining hour, though I sincerely hope, not your last.