Cuzco is a deceptively simple play about a couple on holiday in South America. Translated beautifully from the original Spanish, it touches on themes that are universal such as a love affair falling apart and the loneliness of not connecting with the one you once thought your soulmate. It also touches on the guilt of imperialism and the inevitable way this gets caught up in tourism – both understood and exploited by natives and understood as the price we rightly still must pay for the behaviour of our ancestors.
The play takes a while to get under your skin. This isn’t to say that the first half is less affecting than the second half, though there is less drama as the relationship crumbles slowly at first until the tipping point is reached. But what starts off feeling almost soapy and superficial reveals its depths and the necessity of showing its shallows in doing so.
Both actors were extremely good. The power dynamic between the characters was intense. While she is ostensibly weaker than he (she is suffering from an unnamed ailment that is stopping her working) and he is much more socially able – talking lightly about the friends he has made – this is called into question by later events. Her unwillingness to be casual friends may come from a greater place of depth and his ability to get on with everyone a weakness and need to be liked.
Given it was a two-hander, it was vital that the actors were alike in their strength and they were. Both handled the roles and space admirably. Thankfully there were no cod Spanish accents, while they were clear in the dialogue they came from Spain.
The staging was also excellent. Fringe theatres have such limited space, but the script gave the designers a gift early on talking of how all hotel rooms are alike, which allowed the couple to move from room to room on the trail to Machu Picchu which small adjustments to the set.
My main quibble with the story was the ending. I don’t wish to introduce spoilers here so I won’t go into detail, but a new motif was introduced that I didn’t think quite worked and undermined the intensity of the two-person story.
But overall this is a minor quibble about a very enjoyable piece of work. The writing and its translation worked like poetry and flowed well. The acting was perfect with the two leads bouncing off each other. Neither tried to make themselves more likeable than their character’s least likeable traits and the play was stronger for it.
This is a play about what it’s like to try and fail to take a holiday from yourself. It explores the depths our emotions can reach when every day is no longer a barrier we can comfortably hide behind.