Anne Hailes reviews Tejas Verdes by Fermin Cabal

Prime Cut and the MAC
Tejas Verdes
by Fermin Cabal
at the MAC Theatre Belfast
The season of three Chilean plays runs until 14th June 2014

We walk into a dark space. It’s hard to believe the entire furniture of the downstairs theatre at the MAC has been cleared away, a few pillars put in and two raised areas built, one holding a long church pew, the other a playing surface above our heads but easy to see the actors as they tell the story of a young woman called Colorina, (Amy Molloy). This is Tejas Verdes, Green Gables, at one time a seaside hotel which became a horrific torture and detention centre in Chile following the military overthrow of the Chilean government in September 1973. It’s the early years of the Pinochet regime and this play is based on real life events and the girl is one of thousands who disappeared.

Once our eyes adjust to the dim light we notice the girl sitting on the pew lit by a single spotlight. Underneath our feet is gravel although in fact it’s tiny rubber granules which give the impression of being outside in the dark looking in at this childlike woman. She’s giving her testimony of torture when the authorities tried to break her and so extract information about her boyfriend, of arms and plans of retaliation.

Suddenly a bell rings, it’s deep and loud, mourning the anniversary of her disappearance; she says it tells of a funeral for her sole and admits that she has heard the bell of St. Stephen all her life but never before listened, typical of ongoing events in the country – people hear the voices of the oppressed, they listen but they don’t hear.

We’re a mixed group of people, an audience of men and women of all ages and we hold our collective breath as we listen to the horrors this girl has gone through, the brutal sadistic torture is graphically described and it’s shocking. As the story unfolds we meet her friend (Bernadette Brown) who eventually admits “I grassed her up.” And who could blame the woman as, after her own torture yields nothing, they bring in her six year old son and with nutcrackers begin to squeeze off his fingers. The Doctor (Pauline Hutton) gives her testimony distorting the results of her physical examination, then comes the Gravedigger (Eleanor Methven) who has to dig the graves for the thousands of bodies strewn around the city. Finally the Spanish Lawyer (Emma O’Kane), representing General Augusto Pinochet, speaks at a press conference, ignoring the facts put to her on behalf of the disappeared, people brutally abused and murdered. No one will admit to the awful truth or take responsibility.

Strictly speaking this isn’t a promenade performance as the audience stands in the middle of the floor as each testimony is given so it’s a matter of shifting around on the spot rather than actually moving to observe different scenes. However, with the use of excellent lighting and sound, the company Prime Cut, hold us enthralled for an hour and send us home thinking and I would imagine like me, determined to learn more about this horrific time in history, a time which bears some resemblance to our own history.

Anne Hailes

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