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Two Tapes/Loose Ends, Calder Bookshop and Theatre – Review

Luis Rivera Lopez, Griselda Gambaro
Directed by Luis Gayol 
★★ 

Pros: Learning about events in Argentina’s political history.

Cons: The first of the two short plays is very weak and without the programme, I would not have understood the context of the play. Performances varied in quality.

Our Verdict: Though this double bill raises awareness about a seldom-discussed atrocity of recent history, the plays are not strong enough to do the subject justice.

Courtesy of Calder Bookshop and Theatre

Theatre 4 Identity is an offshoot of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, an activist group trying to locate stolen children during Argentina’s dictatorship in the late 1970s. In this double bill, Theatre 4 Identity focuses on the 1990s. At this time, the current government pardoned those involved in the dictatorship’s heinous treatment of civilians. Loose Ends looks at the ‘death flights’ from the dictatorship where political prisoners were drugged and thrown into rivers or the Atlantic Ocean to drown. Two Tapes focuses on children who were stolen from women branded as war criminals and then adopted into military families. Each short play is about thirty minutes. A short set change in between meant the whole evening was just over an hour.

The first play, Loose Ends, is set on a cruise ship. There are two characters: a young woman and an older man. The man, Martin (John McLear) is attempting to flirt with fluffy, trivial Elisa (Linda Miller) when the ship suddenly starts to sink. He eventually convinces her to join him in a lifeboat. The rest of the play, bar the ending, takes place on this boat but the writing does not indicate how much time passed. In these desperate circumstances and under the threat of death, Martin is revealed as a despicable, selfish man who was in the military during the war and still agrees with the murderous actions of the time. We learn that Elisa had a fifteen-year-old daughter who was jailed for ‘activism’ and killed by being thrown into a river. This escalates into shouting matches, threats, and sexual harassment.

The writing of this short play is vague and if I had not had the historical context from the programme, I would not have understood what was going on. Neither character directly spelled out their circumstances, which meant the audience had to know already what they were talking about. The performances were not very good either. Neither McLear nor Miller were believable during moments of high emotion and instead came across as hammy with no real attachment to their characters.

The second play, Two Tapes, was much better. Again there are two characters. Linda Miller again appears as Maria, mother to Mariana (Alexandra Dionelis). We watched a series of monologues conceived as tape-recorded letters from one to the other. First, we hear Maria’s letter to her nine-year-old daughter, whom she has only recently located. Mariana was taken when Maria was imprisoned for protesting for factory worker’s rights two years earlier. Maria speaks her ‘recording’ live and we simultaneously watch Mariana’s beautifully performed reactions to her mother’s explanation. The second tape features an older Mariana recording a tape for Maria. In this tape, Mariana is struggling with her identity, love, trust, the idea of parentage and imprisonment. The final scene shows Maria and nine-year-old Mariana on a plane, about to start their lives together again.

This is piece is poignant and tearful. Miller upped the standard of her performance and Dionelis demonstrated incredible range and physical capability. It far outshone the first play, though at thirty minutes, it was already starting to drag due to lack of action.

These pieces have very important messages and are extremely eye-opening about a part of Argentina’s history that I had never heard of before. The goal of these plays is to raise awareness and Theatre 4 Identity will certainly do that if they can increase their audience numbers. It’s unfortunate that the plays to convey this important message are not particularly strong.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Two Tapes/Loose Ends runs at Calder Bookshop and Theatre until 8th December 2013.
Entry by donation. Box office: 020 7620 2900 or email info@calderbookshop.com.

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