Pros: An excellent production in a comfortable venue featuring an outstanding performance from Gilly Daniels as Harriet the tortoise.
Cons: The small theatre space with the audience seated on three sides means that occasionally you will have an actor’s back to you.
The Spanish Theatre Company’s objective is to promote the Spanish language via dramatic arts and it aims to bring the best Spanish and Latin American theatre to London. They have made their home at the Cervantes Theatre which is a very short walk from Waterloo Station. The theatre stages performances in Spanish on Monday to Wednesday and English on Thursday to Saturday, so make sure you book the right day.
Darwin’s tortoise – Harriet – is nearing her 200th birthday and wants to go back to the Galapagos Islands. She visits a history professor with the proposal that she relates her experiences in return for his assistance in returning home. Harriet also encounters the professor’s wife and a doctor at a local hospital. Unfortunately all three humans want to use her for their own ends: the professor to claim her knowledge as resulting from his research, the doctor to make a longevity serum and the wife to make money.
Harriet’s account provides a reflection of what is happening in the world now through contemplating events from history. The line ‘People slaughter one another because of the past’ is particularly poignant. The three rather unsavoury human characters show how easy it can be to exploit the vulnerable. Please don’t be put off by these serious themes though as it is a very witty and amusing play with a satisfying ending.
All four actors were first-rate, but a special mention should go to Gilly Daniels as Harriet. She was in almost every scene (I can only recall three without her), stealing most of them. Wearing a hint of a shell under her brown clothing, she managed to convey the mannerisms of a large tortoise and had some great facial expressions, a clear view of which is one of the advantages of being in a small theatre.
Director Paula Paz has done an excellent job, particularly when you remember she has simultaneously been directing a second cast for the Spanish version of the play. I would also like to mention translator David Johnston, who has provided much more than just a straight literal translation, but has ensured the English version still works well on the stage.
At the Q and A session after the performance, author Juan Mayorga revealed that he had been inspired by a photograph of the real Harriet, taken on her 175th birthday, which started him thinking about the momentous events she had lived through. As tortoises are a bit too sedentary to make an interesting theatrical character he had the idea that she could have evolved and be able to move and speak. She is Darwin’s tortoise after all.
Author: Juan Mayorga
Translation by: David Johnston
Director: Paula Paz
Production Manager: Jorge de Juan
Box Office: 0203 633 4406
Booking Link: firstname.lastname@example.org
Booking Until: 18 March 2017