Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Locus Amoenus

Mònica Almirall Batet, Miquel Segovia Garrell and Albert Pérez Hidalgo
Núria Segovia and Sarah-Jane Watkinson
The Lowry, Salford
28 January 2016

Atresbandes last visited The Lowry with the absurd comedy Solfatara. The summary of their new production Locus Amoenus does not sound the least amusing; which only goes to show you can’t judge a play by its précis – it is less extreme but just as funny. 

For the second time this week (the first was Wit) a play opens revealing the conclusion and, again, it ends in death. Three strangers are travelling on a train that, we are told, will derail in an hour, killing all on board. The effort of the characters to make a connection and form relationships becomes a journey towards their individual perception of paradise. 

As a study of the inner life of the characters, Locus Amoenus is uneven. One discovers that he might have had sexual feelings towards his late brother, and another is said to have had a hard year, but all we learn of the third is that he is travelling to London. The excerpts from self-help books and reminders that we rarely consider the brevity of life, which emerge on to a rear screen, seem trite rather than profound. 

As a comedy, however, the play is very fine indeed. Considering that Atresbandes originate from Barcelona, they share the English knack for drawing humour from embarrassment and frustration. An edgy atmosphere is set from the start, as the audience enters to find the stage in the Studio has been transformed into rows of seats laid out to resemble a train, with the three members of the cast (Mònica Almirall Batet, Miquel Segovia Garrell, Albert Pérez Hidalgo, who collaborated on the play) waiting silently at the side. 

Public transport, in which strangers are forced into unwanted intimacy, is a perfect setting for the comedy of embarrassment, and the characters have to cope with a stranger howling in grief or pouring out their heart to someone who, it turns out, hasn’t understood a word. In a sequence worthy of the Marx Brothers, two strangers become more and more confused trying to communicate by way of gestures. 

The eccentric rituals of passengers and the irritations of public transport are exaggerated to an absurd degree, for comic effect. Instead of just fixing her make-up, Mònica Almirall Batet applies full Pierrot clown white face (or perhaps the pallor of the dead). The maddening sound of someone rustling through their handbag becomes a full comic routine, complete with a flag being produced at one stage.  

Quirky and completely charming, Locus Amoenus leaves one determined to seek out Atresbandes when they return to Manchester at HOME in April.

Reviewer: David Cunningham