Pros: Real facts are effectively conveyed by the script, and the stripped-down production fits well with the crude topic.
Cons: Due to the nature of the performance and the presence of stairs in the building, those with access requirements might wish to make an enquiry with the venue before buying a ticket.
Between General Pinochet’s coup, on 11 September 1973, and the end of his regime in 1990, Chile fell into a state of extreme censorship and violent oppression. Hundreds of thousands of opponents had to leave the country, more than 20,000 were arrested and tortured to obtain information, and over 3,000 were killed, their bodies shrouded in secluded graves. During those times, Pinochet – who overthrew the democratically-elected President Salvador Allende – received significant financial support from the USA, the UK and China, who regarded him as an example of political stability in South America.
Tejas Verdes was an old hotel that, during those years of oppression, became one of many torture centres where people were brutally abused and forced to inform on their companions. Prisoners were stripped naked, harshly beaten, and tormented with electric cables plugged into their orifices – often in front of their loved ones, in order to engender pity and convince them to talk. The luckier ones were then released – but not before signing a statement confirming the accidental nature of their injuries.
Waiting for the performance to begin – all gathered in the Ugly Duck‘s main hall – we are invited by director Emily Louizou to follow her upstairs into a large and unfinished room where the all-female cast, mingled with the audience, start to sing the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons. After a few moments of darkness, a spotlight in the corner reveals the presence of a young girl with long brown hair, stood on a patch of grass and flowers under a lemon branch. Her name is Colorina (Ava Pickett); she’s one of the convicted of Tejas Verdes who didn’t make it, and her crime was being in love with a boy accused of being a Socialist conspirator. Her story is heartbreaking and she insistently repeats it with many details, her cheeks flushed with rage.
From this point we are guided into different parts of the space, where we gradually learn about the events that lead to Colorina’s tragic death. In turns, we hear the desperate confession of an inmate (Evelyn Lockley) and the firm denial of one of the regime’s doctors (Hayley Hirsch). The undertaker in charge of burying the unidentified bodies (Susan Hoffman) shares her memories with us, and we even attend the press conference of General Pinochet’s defence lawyer (Frances Keyton).
The acting is impressively strong and the performance is overall intense and emotional, thanks also to a script that lingers in crude descriptions. Designer Adelaide Green took advantage of the rough-looking building to create a daunting set, into which I was completely immersed. The alternation of light and darkness that accompanied the action sent chills down my spine, and the awareness that – despite some fictional characters – the plot is based on real events made the dismissed factory that hosts the Ugly Duck feel haunted.
Despite the stripped-down production, Tejas Verdes succeeds entirely in its outcry for the respect of human rights, and sends a powerful message to those who still regard Pinochet as the undisputed saviour of Chile’s economy.
Author: Fermin Cabal
Director: Emily Louizou
Producer: Collide Theatre
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run.