Sepia Dreams

Fabian Politis, translated by Daniel Goldman
Casa Latin American Theatre Festival
St Andrew's Church, Holborn
(2007)

Production photo

One can only admire the ambition of Daniel Goldman, the Artistic Director behind the Casa Latin American Theatre Festival at St Andrews Church, Holborn.

He has created a varied programme of three plays from different South American countries, two of which have been specially commissioned for the festival and are world premieres, with the third, Black Light, being seen for the first time in the United Kingdom.

Goldman is well qualified to translate this unusual double love story, having spent a year studying drama in Buenos Aires. He ensures that Argentine writer Fabian Politis' language is suitably poetic in translation and, additionally, shows great imagination in his staging.

The crypt space that he has chosen to use is very long with a curving ceiling but great acoustics. Following the first scene, which is like an introductory promenade, wherever you sit in the main space you can see reasonably well and hear perfectly. Set designer, Sean Turner and lighting designer Michael Nabarro maintain interest by moving actors around so that they are sometimes up to 20-30 yards apart with the audience in between.

The space that they occupy represents the home of a couple, played by four actors designated as Una and Uno and Man and Woman. The cleverness of this ethereal drama rests in the doubling of parts. The first named couple talk exclusively in Spanish, while their alter egos are English and, as we are assured by Mr Goldman, only around a quarter of what they say is direct translation. For the remainder, the plot advances bilingually.

Even in a single language, it would take time to get the measure of the complicated, magic realism that plays out to just under an hour. The partners or possibly spouses are having problems in their relationship and, indeed, the opening scene develops, amongst the waiting spectators, from an overly-loud discussion between the Spaniards, played by Laura Brauer and Rob Carragher.

As the audience quietens down, the Spanish arguments are seemingly replicated by a handsome young couple speaking English, Mark Duncan and Kirsten Hazel Smith.

When things heat up, they guide us into the big chamber, which represents their home albeit with rooms dropped in seemingly at random. At different times, the double couple meet in the kitchen, the bedroom and the bathroom as well as, possibly, through what is literally a hole in the wall, the garden.

Love has seemingly long departed from the young couples although they talk of their erotic desires. These though are only fulfilled in the happiness of dreams that do not accord. As the man dreams in colour, the woman does so in black and white but each derives great pleasure during their over imaginative periods of sleep.

Thanks in particular to impressive acting from the two ladies and a gradual dawning of understanding, this unusual play grows on you. By the end, you may not have understood all that has been going on but you do empathise with the pleasures and problems of a collapsing marriage that can only be resurrected separately; and in sleep.

One hopes that this is the start of a longer term relationship between Goldman and the Theatre of Latin America, far too little of which is currently seen in the United Kingdom. Judging by these initial samples and a tremendous literary tradition represented by the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges and Mario Vargas Llosa, there must be a vast, untapped treasure trove from which we could all benefit.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher