Dona Flor and her Two Husbands

Mark O'Thomas based on the novel by Jorge Amado
Dende Collective
Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

Publicity photograph

Literature presents us women with an infernal dilemma: should we go for a sensible, well-off man with no sex appeal or a red-hot Casanova who has a sideline as a layabout philanderer? (For some reason men are usually consigned to one category or the other, with little scope for manoeuvre).

Dona Flor and her Two Husbands presents a novel solution. You can have both, but only if one of them is dead. Mark O'Thomas's adaptation of Jorge Amado's novel tells the story of the young Dona Flor (played by Mariana Whitehouse) whose philandering first husband Vadinho (Luciano Gatti) dies of a heart attack, leaving her a heartbroken widow. At the prompting of her mother Rozkilda (Montserrat Gili, who is also executive producer), she remarries a tall, dark and balding local doctor Teodoro (James G Bellorini). Teodoro is well-meaning but essentially dull and no match for the shy but passionate Flor.

Flor ambles along in her comfortable but tedious existence but her life is turned upside down when the gods conjure up the one thing she craves: her dead husband. She struggles with her conscience as Vadinho makes clear he wants her to cheat on Teodoro. In the end she chooses to have both men.

Written in 1966, this novel by one of Brazil's most celebrated authors, Jorge Amado, shows his empathy with a woman's lot in life by examining the imbalance between the sexes. We are left with the conclusion that women need to be assertive about what they want and shouldn't settle for anything less.

This production is part of theMix season at the Lyric and is the first time the novel has been adapted for the stage in Europe. Mark O'Thomas's adaptation breathes life into the subject matter, though at times it feels slightly over-written with characters telling us things we already know. The pace flagged a little in the middle but picked up again when Vadinho arrived back in Flor's life and the ménage a trois started in earnest. The cameo performances such as Teodoro's manipulative mother and the erotic angel (brazenly played by Mark Reid), though amusing, seemed to stand out on their own rather than integrate into the play as a whole.

The real star is the production itself. Directed by Andre Pink and designed by Rachana Jadhav, it's an exuberant melange of Brazilian music, dance, and effective shadow puppetry (staged by Ramon Abad) which gets over the tricky problem of simulating sex on stage by using clever lighting effects.

The collectively exuberant cast are adept at merging into the different characters and at handling the many set changes that are needed to keep the pace flowing. The design could do with a little fine-tuning to ensure that the audience aren't able to see what's happening behind the screens but this didn't affect the enjoyment of the piece.

The Dende Collective is an Anglo-Brazilian venture committed to producing works with a strongly Brazilian flavour. They believe that their works are never completed but are constantly re-evaluated and re-explored. Consequently, the performance has a very fluid, live feel and it makes for a vibrant night's entertainment.

Reviewer: Bronagh Taggart

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