Pros: Unmissable if you’re secretly in love with Russian literature: this is basically the female Latino spin on The Double by Dostoyevsky.
Cons: To avoid if you’re not a confident English or Spanish speaker: your attention will get trapped by reading the surtitles and attempting to get a grip of the rocket-speed Mexican accents.
First of all, I’d like to give some logistical advice: do not attempt to explore the Barbican Centre without the support of a steward, especially if it’s your first time there, or the second… or any number below ten. Most likely you’ll end up in some remote exhibition space but, in the worst case scenario, you’ll be swept away by the storm of ‘cumberbitches’ there to see Hamlet. Even more important, when you’re heading down to The Pit, learn your way out or, a bit like the play’s main character, you’ll have an argument with your own doppelgänger, reflected on a mirrored wall where you thought the entrance to the lifts was.
The Pit is a cosy auditorium at level -2, where the voices don’t require amplification and the stage is only steps away from the first row. The set, designed by Ricardo Ricaño, is minimal yet functional. A wooden chair on wheels with a phone receiver attached to its front leg is the only piece of furniture during the in-house scenes, whereas some suitcases also serve as seats during the main character’s peregrination across the world. Watch out for the bigger one, as occasionally it becomes a phone booth or a laptop. The costumes are basic, as often happens in contemporary plays depicting everyday life.
Maria is a playwright for children who decides to quit sunny Mexico and move to Bergen, in Norway, eager to live in the country that gave birth to the master Henrik Ibsen. Unfortunately for her, Scandinavia is not as nice as she had imagined and, to overcome depression and alcoholism, she decides to buy an old typewriter and resume her artistic activity. But the machine is cursed and something Maria writes on a drunken night is soon to become a life-changing challenge against her double, which is, in fact, the better version of herself. Supported by her only-therefore-best friend Lola (Sara Pinet), Maria engages on a perilous journey which will eventually teach her to approach love as the fireflies do.
On stage we find three Marias acting simultaneously: the actual one in flesh and blood (Sonia Franco), the young Maria (Sofía Sylwin), belonging to the past and going through her disappointing love story with Rómulo (Pablo Marìn), and finally the intimate one (Ximena Gutiérrez), who opens up about feelings and emotions.
The play is cleverly written and built with an elaborate yet flawless pattern. Despite the alternating voices, the actors are remarkable on making their lines flow and the ensemble is fresh and rich in laughter. The author Alexandro Ricaño, considered one of the best Mexican contemporary playwrights, is not shy on political references, for which the character of Maria’s father (Miguel Romero) seems intentionally created.
The performance is in Spanish but the English surtitles are large enough to ensure smooth reading while blending pleasantly with the plain black background. I am lucky enough to understand Spanish, and the Mexican slang definitely added to the comic effect, although Sofía Sylwin’s speech was a bit too fast for me to understand.
The Love of the Fireflies is part of the CASA Latin American Theatre Festival, which aims to familiarise the UK with Latin American performance art. Celebrating its eighth edition, this year the festival focuses on Mexico.
Author & Director: Alexandro Ricaño
Producer: Raúl Morquecho S.
Run Dates: This production had a short run on 6 and 7 October 2015.
More Info: www.casafestival.org.uk