In 1973, the democratically elected socialist government of Chile was overthrown by a military coup; the new authoritarian government, led by General Pinochet, ruled for the next seventeen years. During the regime, horrific punishments and torture were visited upon dissidents, and around 3000 Chileans were ultimately left dead or missing.
In 2004, Chilean playwright Fermín Cabal’s Tejas Verdes was published: the play explores the story of one girl, Colarina, who comes to represent all of those captured, tortured, and murdered under Pinochet’s regime.
Rather than a conventional, linear narrative, Cabal’s text takes the form of a number of monologues delivered by different women: Colarina herself; her cellmate in Tejas Verdes (a hotel, “Green Gables”, which became a torture centre during the dictatorship); a gravedigger; a military doctor who treats Colarina; Pinochet’s lawyer when he was eventually imprisoned in London and charged for his crimes.
In Collide Theatre’s new site-specific production, the audience walks between a number of rooms and hears each monologue in turn, piecing together what happened to Colarina as we go. There is little set-dressing – flowers, dirt, and chairs are all we have to indicate setting – but this works perfectly to evoke a dystopic, dream-like landscape (the play, after all, is not realist, and we are not expected to place these characters precisely in space or time).
The acting by every cast member is phenomenal – but special mentions must go to Pickett and Lockley, who both give incredibly moving and harrowing performances as Colarina and her cellmate, respectively. This production’s stripped-back approach is ideal, treating the text with sensitivity and never tipping over into melodrama.
Louizou has written that the company chose to revive this play in light of recent political events, and indeed the script often puts the audience in the uncomfortable position of having to admit our own complicity in such atrocities (Pinochet’s takeover was backed by the CIA, and he received money from the UK, USA, and Chinese governments). Tejas Verdes was important in 2004, but it is no less important now – and this muted production, which lets Cabal’s work take centre-stage, easily lives up to its task.
- By Fermín Cabal
- Translator: Robert Shaw
- Director: Emily Louizou
- By Collide Theatre
- Cast: Ava Pickett, Evelyn Lockley, Susan Hoffman, Hayley Hirsch, Frances Keyton
- Ugly Duck, London
- Review by Nicola Watkinson
- 3 April 2017