“Down there the poor are like lemons – whenever anyone gets hold of one, they squeeze it”
It’s a good few years ago now that I saw Las Brutas, a play by acclaimed Chilean writer Juan Radrigán but as soon as I heard that Head for Heights were producing another of his plays, my interest was most definitely piqued. Mad Man Sad Woman (El loco y la triste) has again been translated by Catherine Boyle and directed by Sue Dunderdale and it is easy to see the affinity they have for the material in their sensitively handled and powerfully moving work.
In an abandoned building in a grim area of town, Eva and Huinca seem to be suffering the hangover from hell. She’s a lame prostitute and he’s dying of cirrhosis of the liver and with just a few days left to live, circumstances have conspired to bring them together. Their relationship is a spiky thing indeed at the start as it transpires this was a plan conceived by others. But in the midst of the desperation of their situation, shoots of green begin to appear through the bleakness as something of a connection starts to grow.
Sadie Shimmin’s Eva and Bil Stuart’s Huinca both deliver strong performance as Dunderdale sets their opposite mindsets as the vehicle for possible attraction. As they painstakingly reveal aspects of their life stories, they find as many things in common as they do differences, the subtleties of John Leonard’s sound design and the more expansive feeling of Dominic Ashworth’s melancholic score proving the power of music to move the soul and help us to dream of something more, even when the world seems dead set against you.
The play was written in 1980 and one can certainly feel Radrigán’s fury at the indignities that the Pinochet regime wrought on his country and it is little surprise that so much of that feeling still resonates so strongly now, nearly 40 years later. The neglect suffered by the Grenfell Tower victims, the injustices the survivors are still being forced through, the lengthy shadow that austerity casts over those most marginalised in our society as the state averts its eyes as if that might absolve it of its responsibilities.
Radrigán’s is a striking voice that deserves to be more widely heard and so all credit to Head for Heights for alighting on his work and doing it as much justice as they do here. Lit beautifully by Rory Beaton (some of the best lighting design I’ve seen this year) in the atmospheric surroundings of this former chapel, this is precisely the kind of play our society needs right now, to ask of itself what do we actually really mean by society.