A high-temperature double bill of sex, passion and envy from Brazil hits the Old Red Lion Theatre. The plays in question are a two-hander entitled 'The Assault' by Jose Vicente and 'The Last Days of Gilda' by Rodrigo de Roure.
As we assembled for the first play, we were instantly aware that the main character in 'The Assault' was worried, if not unstable. As we took our seats, he fidgeted with rubber bands, books and anything else which lay around on his desk or on the shelves behind him. Victor is a bank clerk who has become overwhelmed by numbers and the demands placed on him by his employers. On top of all that, he fancies the pants off one of the bank's cleaners, going so far as to follow him into bars and noting the kind of cigarettes he smokes. It's the conversation and confrontation between bank clerk and cleaner that forms the basis of the play.
Slow to get moving, this piece eventually moves into top gear when the characters in turn rail against each other and the heat rises to almost unbearable degrees. Steven Farah as Victor amply conveys a man in crisis, verging on the brink of a total breakdown. And Jade Willis as Hugo the cleaner, is the working class man who knows his place, and in spite of his poverty wants to remain honest. Both actors give highly convincing and committed performances that clearly define the social gulf between them.
Given the emotional confrontation within the context, Brazilian born director, Victor Esses, had a pretty tough job, and succeeds in building and maintaining the tension. However, there were times when I felt a little more control was needed and where the direction needed to be tighter especially in some of the more emotionally intense scenes.
The ending is somewhat predictable and seemed rather safe. Though the class conflict involved in the play might have pointed to the outcome, an unexpected twist in the tail could have lifted it onto a completely different psychological and sociological plane.
'The Last Days of Gilda' sees Gaël Le Cornec in excellent form reworking a role with which she has already enjoyed considerable success in a previous run at the Arcola theatre earlier in the year.
Living in a steaming Favela in Rio, Gilda seduces the husbands of her neighbours with her culinary expertise and her vivacious beauty. Naturally this arouses a considerable amount of hatred from the the local women and she is subjected to violence which she compares with the suffering of Christ. In a way though, Gilda is her own worst enemy – but only just!
Sophie Mosberger's simple set proved highly effective with sheets hanging on a washing line together with the oven and table where Gilda prepares her seductive dishes. I particularly liked the use of towels which transformed into chickens, dough and other ingredients. A highly inventive touch.
Victor Esses is again in charge of the direction, and this time displays ample evidence to leave us in no doubt that he is a director to look out for in the future. His direction here is fluid and inventive, and carefully balances humour with the pathos of Gilda's situation.
A modicum of prudent trimming could have left 'The Last Days of Gilda' with even more power than it actually enjoys. But even so it is an engaging piece thanks to Gaël Le Cornec's intelligent, humorous and captivating performance which won over the audience almost instantly. Stirring and highly enjoyable stuff!