You’re 13 years old, the theatre is your classroom. And Miss Margarida is your new teacher. She begins by writing ASSHOLE on the white board in huge capital letters, then scrubs it off and draws a cock and balls. This, she explains, is a map of the Cape of Good Hope.
It’s clear from the outset that Miss Margarida is no ordinary teacher. ‘Obedience,’ she tells us, ‘is the greatest of all qualities.’ You’re in her class not because you chose to be, but because your parents paid to put you here: you have no control over your own life, no free will. ‘Did any of you choose to be born? Were you consulted?’
The first lesson is Biology, but it’s not the sex education lesson Miss Margarida believes you were hoping for. ‘If you think Miss Margarida is going to teach you how to kiss, how to fornicate, you are mistaken.’ She has, she tells us, been forbidden by the principal from taking her clothes off.
The part of Miss Margarida – she always refers to herself in the third person – is played by two actors, Hanna Luna and Leena Makoff. Although they differ in height and age, they share the part between them, the monologue effortlessly slipping from one to the other. It’s an innovative technique, and one that works superbly, largely thanks to the outstanding, compelling performances by the two actors.
Originally written by Roberto Athayde in 1971 as a satirical allegory of dictatorship and control in his native Brazil, this 50th anniversary production is just as relevant today. Miss Margarida could represent any authoritarian institution or government; as a member of her class, you’re cowered into submission by the relentless onslaught of invective, foul language and digression.
The play shocks from the start, and continues to shock. ‘You’re all going to die,’ says one Miss Margarida as the other writes the words on the board. ‘One day,’ she adds, gesturing to a skeleton, ‘you’ll all look like this.’ For your English homework, you’re to write an essay describing your own funeral.
The mathematics instruction consists of division: you have to share 12 lollipops between the 35 members of the class. How do you do so? The answer, she explains, is that the strongest takes most of the lollipops, leaving the second strongest to scoop up the few that remain. The rest get nothing.
Although the first half is static and somewhat repetitive – some judicious trimming would help here – the second half sees more physical action, as well as more didacticism. In the Catechism lesson, Miss Margarida tells us that “In Jesus’ time there was no pornography. Everything happened by miracle.’
The pair of Margaridas are joined on stage by a gawky, shy schoolboy (Hugo Linton) who suffers wordlessly as he is teased, abused and maltreated by the teacher.
Miss Margarida’s Way is a satirical exploration of the abuse of authority and power, combining often hilarious dialogue with shocking moments. The pitch-perfect performances by the two Miss Margaridas make this a truly compelling evening.
Written by: Roberto Athayde
Directed by: Julie Drake
Produced by: Julie Drake, 5Go Theatre Co
Booking until: 19 September at the Etcetera Theatre, then 5-9 October at the Drayton Arms Theatre and 11-13 October at the Bread and Roses