La Periodista, a one-woman play about an imprisoned journalist
Published: 13 September, 2012
by LEO GARIB
OFFICIALLY there are 160,000 Latin Americans in London. Unofficially the real number’s more like 600,000, reckons the man behind the CASA Latin American Theatre Festival.
Considering most of them work in tough low-paid jobs and have been forced into the black economy, it’s unsurprising they’re not on the census, said Daniel Goldman. But with the CASA Festival he’s aiming to bring a little home-living to the Latin American expats and show Londoners the astonishing spread of Latin America’s theatre talent.
Theatre is such a big part of Latin American culture that on any night of the week in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, for instance, there are three or four times as many fringe plays as London, he said. The innovation and depth of acting talent will be an eye-opener for Britons.
The idea began five years ago when he and a friend put on a modest festival in St Andrew’s Church, Holborn. This year, with Arts Council funding, CASA has brought more than six multi-award-winning theatre companies for an extravagant 10-day festival at the Ovalhouse Theatre, Kennington.
Most actors in Latin American fringe theatre have jobs to pay the bills and theatres programme three or four different plays to run consecutively. The effect of is to throw up the kind of innovative ideas almost never seen in Britain, said Goldman.
Among the most eye-catching are the Troupp Pas D’Argent from Brazil, a physical-theatre company performing a mime about clowns on their way to a Nazi concentration camp, Holoclownsto, and a raucous Chaucer-like story about a city of serial-killer women, The City of Maidens.
The woman behind the company, 27-year-old Marcela Rodrigues, wrote The City of Maidens when she was 15 and gathered a group of friends to perform it. Now one of the only full-time physical-theatre companies in Brazil, they have 55 awards and perform across Latin America, Europe and in even Madagascar.
In the one-woman play about an imprisoned journalist, La Periodista, Mexican actress Ana Cordelia Aldama put on the kind of tour-de-force performance that would have scooped a clutch of awards had it been in the West End. Unbelievably it was the company Anima Teatro’s debut show.
The problem of telling the incredible true story of Charles Darwin and a South American native Indian using only a tea-set, a piece of rope and some musical instruments was tackled by Chilean company, Tyro Teatro Banda.
The tragic-comic story of Jemmy Button, the Chilean Indian whose life was wrecked after he was shipped to London to be “civilised”, is almost unknown over here. Yet South Americans are well aware of Britain’s colonial relationship with the continent, right up to David Cameron’s posturing over the Falkland Islands. Tyro Teatro Banda, which has been performed across Latin America, the US and Spain, spins the story with uproarious results.
CASA is Britain’s only Latin American theatre festival yet receives a modest £46,000 of public funding – in contrast to the big-spending French and German governments, and £5million of funds for a festival in Spain.
But it attracts the most innovative award-winners from Latin America and runs a competition to help the most imaginative performers with cash to appear at next year’s festival.
Its success is at last turning heads in the theatre establishment with several national theatres vying to host it next year.
“There’s a political awareness in Latin American theatre that’s quite different from what we’re used to over here,” said Goldman. “There, theatre is more vibrant, closer to the edge than the kind of stuff we usually get here.”
“Yes, it’s tempting to move the festival to a really huge venue but we also want to keep it close to the Latin American community, many of whom live around Kennington. The festival is theirs as well as for all the other Londoners.”
• The CASA 2012 Festival of Latin American Theatre runs from September 7-16 at Ovalhouse Theatre, Kennington. Box Office: 020 7852 7680. Visit www.casafestival.org.uk and www.ovalhouse.com