TNC Archive 2016
Incoming Festival 2016
New Diorama Theatre
July 28, 2022
Our cultural landscape would be pretty dire if there was not this guarantee of plays, films, and music that try to grapple with our 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 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 examine the fragility of the human condition and the unreal assurance we take, sometimes blindly, of our own mortality.
As three people, all strangers to one another, take their seats on a train, the audience is informed by bold white text that is projected on to a wall behind the actors that all three are going to die at 5:55, so we can relax since we now know the ending. With delicate ease, ATRESBANDES begins 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 had originally sat towards the back of the train wearing oversized dark sunglasses, making little or no contact with the other passengers; 2. is a bearded, upbeat Barcelona native who has decided to leave his home for some reason, clearly unsure of what he is expecting to find; and 3. is John, emotional and confused, who himself has left his home to make a pilgrimage of sorts, perhaps hoping to find some closure.
Touching bonds are forged between Segovia and Pérez Hidalgo, which then become fractured and isolate the characters. The opening scene is silent, awkward, and brings in the company's playful side through the use of mime without giving away too much. This moment is revisited at the end when the company reverts back to their opening silence, exchanging smiles, movement, and looks.
It became clear after the first five minutes that the emotional power that the company established early in their production wasn’t going to dissipate. We know they are going to die, but now, almost like voyeurs, we watch them go out in 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 overshadows or complicates their narrative. Each moment has and serves its purpose, allowing the audience to gain a little bit more about who these people are.
One of the scenes that shows the depth of their creativity comes towards the end of the play and focuses heavily on the female passenger. After a series of confrontations and movement around the train carriage, Almirall has decided to sit at the front of the train, now fully ignoring the two men as well as her phone, which has been ringing. The scene unloads just a small part of her story and offers a tiny glimpse into who she might be and what she's been through, but as fast as they begin to offer the audience some clues, they are quick to offer more questions.
The company has used many theatrical elements to provide a solid footing for Locus Amoenus. Their first scene, and during the introduction, wilfully breaks down the fourth 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 get 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 knows 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 of theatre is and how beautifully rich it can become.
Their writing is not without its cruelty, which is aided by the 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, he only gives the audience more questions than answers.
Almirall, Segovia, and Pérez Hidalgo are enormous talents 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 production's low-fi integrity that would have been spoilt, if not ruined, if they had done it differently.
"...they leave so many questions open for the audience to interpret in whatever way they feel comfortable with..."
What ATRESBANDES have created is a play that is undeniably on the cusp of genius.
Their painstaking detail and delivery unpack 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' positions.