Note: A slightly belated review of the matinee performance on Saturday 17th August 2013.
Credit where credit is due, after three Edinburgh International Festival theatre shows where narrative has been either absent or cut to shreds, Teatrocinema at least tell a story. There are serious problems with this story, but it is at least a step back towards what I regard as theatrical sanity.
The story is about a particularly nasty form of love. An English teacher sees a woman on the subway to whom he is instantly attracted. He follows her home where he assaults her. She has him arrested. So far, so reasonably explicable if not very nice. However, it is at this point that things begin to go awry. The criminal charges against him are withdrawn (no explanation for this is offered). He nevertheless serves two months in prison. Released, he continues his pursuit of her leading to further acts of violence against both her and other people, in private and in public. I hung on for the one hour and forty minutes in the hope that there would be some satisfying pay off but there frankly isn't (at one point I began to wonder if it might all be revealed as a fantasy, but no).
There are three problems with this. The first is a moral one – although we have two performers on stage virtually throughout (the man and the woman), the latter is permitted to say nothing of any consequence – indeed she is virtually silenced. The second problem with that is that it is a serious failure dramatically. I think it is at least plausible that this might have stood up better as drama if done as a monologue. Possibly the silent woman is supposed to have all kinds of symbolic weight but I found it very ineffective. There seemed really no good reason for her not to say anything of substance, the more so as the one-sided narration of the man struck me as increasingly untrustworthy (also laughable which given the subject matter is also a problem). The third problem is the overall trajectory of the plot. I realise theatre often requires some suspension of disbelief, but I found it increasingly impossible to believe that the protagonist would not have found himself in jail long before the play reached the half way mark.
I was previously pretty critical of the stylistic approach of this company after their 2010 Festival appearance. Indeed my memories of that were sufficiently bleak that I was rather surprised that Mills had offered them a return slot (I fear this is another instance of the so far ill advised technology theme wagging the programming dog). To be fair, that approach – of filmed backgrounds – works far better for this show than it did for Sin Sangre. On a purely technical level you have to admire those visuals and the skills of the two performers (Julian Marras and Bernardita Montero) in playing within them. But despite the better fit it still doesn't make for a satisfying theatrical experience.
I come back, with this show, to a point I've made on previous occasions. Although the key elements of character, narrative and emotional engagement are more present here than in other EIF 2013 theatre shows, they are still given substantially less weight than technical wizardry. I have yet to see a show with such a balance that convinced me that the approach can create truly great theatre. I fear however that on the form of recent years the International Festival are likely to go on trying.