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Lorca is Dead or, A Brief History of Surrealism

Dominic J. Allen
Belt Up Theatre
Southwark Playhouse
(2010)

Lorca is Dead or, A Brief History of Surrealism publicity imGE

Staged as a meeting of the Bureau of Surrealist Research, at which the audience are guests, Lorca Is Dead is a snapshot of the group of poets, painters and others who called themselves Surrealists. It is they who present a play on the death of the Spanish poet and theatre maker Gabriel Garcia Lorca, despite the fact that their meeting takes place in 1926 so there is no way those creating it can know what happened in the following decade and what happened to Lorca. That's surrealism for you: if you can't take that on board there is no way this play can work, though they do have what Antoine Artaud claims is a time machine he has invented to transport them through the years.

They gather in André Breton's office where the audience sit in armchairs or on benches or cushions and Paul Éluard and Louis Aragon (co-founders of the movement with Breton), Artaud, René Magritte, Luis Buñuel, arrive bearing objects they claim to be surreal. Salvador Dalí turns up with his lover Gala (who has left husband Éluard for him) as his object: she has regressed backward into an egg. The audience can award themselves brownie points as they recognize references. Although the production rather assumes existing knowledge about these people, those in the dark may still find their zaniness amusing.

What rapidly becomes clear is that Dalí is out to dominate things. He, not they, is the embodiment of Surrealism, but Dalí is identifying with Europe's new fascist dictators while the others are claiming to be a surrealist you must be a communist. The whole movement is falling to pieces.

The play, despite continual interruptions, presents an outline of Lorca's life: his love for Dalí, an episode of Dadaism at the Café Voltaire, his trip to America (where friends try to pair him off with Hart Crane), his return to Spain and his appointment to run a theatre company touring the Spanish countryside, all this leading up to his return to Granada and his arrest and execution. What starts as madcap ends up truly moving.

There is an appropriately dominating performance of Dalí, the self-proclaimed genius, a strong Bréton, and I particularly liked the Buñuel and cross-gender cast Magritte but this is essentially an ensemble show. Indeed the company offer no programme from which to identify performers (and in publicity only the writer/director gets a credit) and do not take a call, simply ushering out the audience when the play has ended. Almost all the surrealists, and some of the audience, get to play Lorca, a red scarf passed from person to person to indicate assumption of his character but it is the actor playing Éluard who is entrusted with his final moments when the cleverness of these poseurs gives way to real poetry and true emotion. The serious side of surrealism and its politics get short shrift among the hectic action that tries to embrace so much in its 90 minutes but it ends up oddly satisfying.

Run ends 27th November 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton