Abel Gonzalez Melo, translated by William Gregory
21 April 2016 to 23 April 2016
Of course there’s nothing remotely wrong with celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday. Nor with mounting superior productions of, let’s just say, Arthur Miller. Nor with staging blockbuster musicals. I could go on – and often do. But any Manchester theatregoer will be well aware that those valuable functions are already well catered for by local theatres. To put it bluntly, all you have to do is to wait - and probably not for very long either - if all you’re interested in seeing is another version of Lady Windermere’s Fan or a jolly clever Ayckbourn (again a couple of randomly chosen examples…).
The genius of HOME and their Theatre Director Walter Meierjohann is that they have recognized a genuine gap in the theatrical ecology of Manchester (even the UK) in celebrating theatre from around the world and bringing it to the city. Not all of the productions have been entirely successful, nor perhaps to my personal taste. But I’d much rather have the chance to actually see these shows on my doorstep than not. Where else could you feasibly expect to see a U.K. premiere of a work by one of Cuba’s leading contemporary playwrights staged as part of a “Focus On Cuba”, itself part of a building wide, eighteen day long festival of Spanish and Latin American cinema, theatre and art?
Chamaco (Kiddo) was the first success of Cuban playwright Abel González Melo, and after being staged at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba in 2006 went on to win multiple awards. It has been translated into many languages, produced across the world, and made into a film, while his later plays Talco and Mecánica have also been performed internationally to great acclaim. Born in Havana in 1980, Melo writes about the harsh realities and relationships of contemporary Cuba. He’s currently working with HOME on his latest play ‘Weathered’, due to have a staged reading this Saturday at HOME.
This, though, was a scratch performance, brought to fruition by Meierjohann in only a couple of weeks, in what they called a “pop-up Studio” on the main stage of their Theatre One, where a number of well-known actors from Manchester and the Northwest (including a spectacularly seedy-looking David Fleeshman!) told a tale from the underbelly of Havana, the sort of thing tourists might just possibly glimpse from the corner of their eye but not really acknowledge, let alone understand.
Zigzagging back and forth in time over a few days at Christmas, it opens on a freezing cold Christmas Eve in a Havana park. Under the beady eyes of self-styled ‘guardian of the square’ Roberta Lopez (Jacqueline Pilton), transgender flower seller La Paco (Kenny Thompson) comes across the body of young Miguel Depas (Jamie Samuel), slain only a few minute earlier in a knife fight over a few pesos with the freezing and desperate Karel Darin (David Judge), the nominal “kiddo”. Meanwhile his hard-working sister Silvia (Katie West) and hard-nosed father, the judge Alejandro Depas (Robin Simpson) wait for Miguel to come home for a Christmas dinner that he will never eat and, not far away, Karel’s uncle Felipe Alejo (David Fleeshman) also waits, with lustful appetites, for his nephew to come home to his crumbling and poorly-furnished apartment. The relationships between these characters, as well as brutal policeman (and La Paco’s ‘husband’) Saul Alter (Jason Furnival) turn out to be unexpectedly complex, often dark and illicit, although just part of a dog-eat-dog struggle for survival in a conflicted city.
Hovering intriguingly between gritty realism and something far stranger, the production fizzes with a compelling energy.
Reviewer: Kevin Bourke