Our cultural landscape would be pretty dire if there wasn’t a guarantee stock of plays, films and music that try to grapple with mankind’s obsession with mortality. Imagine the hundreds of hours spent thinking about death, how would it come calling? What we might be doing when ‘it’ happens. The reality is we don’t think about death half as much as we like to think we do, instead we tend to be a lot more passive when we go about our lives not realising that at any moment it could all end. We are not as invincible as we think we are.
ATRESBANDES - Mònica Almirall, Miquel Segovia and Albert Pérez Hidalgo - bring Locus Ameonus (Pleasant Place) to London which examines the fragility of the human condition and the unreal assurance we take, sometimes blindly, at our own mortality.
As three people, all strangers to one another, take their seats on a train the audience are informed by bold white text that is projected on the wall behind them that all three are going to die at 5:55, so we can relax since we now know the ending. With a delicate ease ATRESBANDES begin to slowly unpack a story that is instantly relatable whilst showing great care to guard their complicated characters.
1 - is a cold and distant woman, who originally sat towards the back of the train wearing oversized dark sunglasses, making little or no contact with the other passengers; 2 - a bearded upbeat Barcelona native who has decided to leave his home for some reason clearly unsure of what he’s expecting to find; and 3 - John, emotional, confused, lonely who himself has left his home to make a pilgrimage of sorts, perhaps hoping to find some closure.
"Each moment has and serves its purpose that in one hand allows the audience to gain a little bit more about who these people are and in the other they take it away."
As their journey continues touching bonds are forged between Segovia and Pérez Hidalgo which then become fractured and isolates the characters. The opening scene is silent, awkward, and brings in the companies playful side through the use of mime in the most hysterical way without giving away too much. This moment is revisited at the end when the company reverts back to their opening silence, exchanging of smiles, movement and looks.
It became clear after the first five minutes that the emotional power that the company establish early in their production isn’t going to dissipate, we know they are going to die but now, almost like voyeurs, we watch them go out their final hour completely unaware. Even with the complexity of their back stories and the wealth of layers that each character is given the company never overshadow or complicate their narrative. Each moment has and serves its purpose that in one hand allows the audience to gain a little bit more about who these people are and in the other they take it away.
One of the scenes that shows the depth of their creativity comes towards the end of the play and focus's heavily on the female passenger. After a series of confrontations and movement around the train carriage Almirall has now decided to sit at the front of the train, now fully ignoring the two men as well as her phone that has been ringing. The scene unpacks just part of her story and offers a tiny look into who she might be, what she's been through, but as fast as they begin to, in some way, offer the audience some clues they are quick to simply offer more questions.
The company have used many theatrical elements to provide a solid footing for Locus Amoenus. Their first scene, and during the introduction, wilfully breaks down the forth wall allowing the trio on two fronts the opportunity to imprint their characters on the audience. The text they use throughout the play isn’t without its humour and one is never overly sure if it is the characters that the text is talking to or us. As the play continues this line begins to gets more and more blurred between the reflective nature of the text and who it’s aimed at.
The blending of these theatre methods could have been a disaster and alienated the audience but ATRESBANDES have shown the type of originality and bravery in their work that comes with maturity, experience and passion. The audience know that these people are going to die and with that knowledge comes a sombre feeling that makes us feel guilty for laughing at their interactions and humour. But then why shouldn't we laugh, don’t we live in this moment as well? We can’t stop the train from derailing and we can’t tell them so why not share this blissful moment with them.
Locus Ameonus is a result of ATRESBANDES willingness to push their own boundaries and comfort zones to create a show that is a priceless reminder of how important a part theatre is and how beautifully rich it can become.
Their writing isn't without its cruelty which is aided by their black comedy that they use throughout the play which goes from extreme over-emotion to mime and keeps the soul of the play intact. ‘John’ is the only character that really lets his guard down but even then, much like the woman, only gives the audience more questions than answers.
Almirall, Segovia and Pérez Hidalgo are an enormous talent that have devised a piece of theatre that not only showcases their skill and willingness to create thoughtful theatre but to challenge their audiences. The risks that one can take in theatre can sometimes outweigh the benefits or rewards but when practitioners are creating theatre for audiences the pay off is something like this. The company are aided in their desire to create this subtle but effective world by Alberto Rodríguez's lighting and sound design by Joan Solé which brings this whole production full circle. Their ending maintains the productions low-fi integrity that would have been spoilt, if not ruined, if they had done it differently.
What ATRESBANDES have created a play that is undeniably on the cusp of genius. Their painstaking detail and delivery unpacks a story that is as hauntingly beautiful as it is genuinely honest and relatable. Purposefully they leave so many questions open for the audience to interpret in whatever way they feel comfortable with but they also allow us to retrospectively place ourselves in their characters position.