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Villa+Discurso - Festival blogger review

Festival blogger Helena Smith reviews Villa + Discurso.

Three female characters, all the same age and all called Alejandra, are brought together in a committee to discuss a dilemma. What to do with the ruins of a villa, a former detention centre of Chile’s Pinochet regime, a place of imprisonment, rape and execution. Should it be reconstructed, with torture instruments and blood on the floor? Should it be a white-wall gallery with computer screens recording the lives of those who were killed, speculating on the futures that were taken from them? Or should it be razed and become meadow, a blank space to remember, to feel or just to exist.

None of this sounds exactly entertaining. Yet Villa is often comic, both in the sparky interchanges between the characters and in the contortions caused by their role as committee members. Having eventually reached a decision that the purest and truest solution is to do nothing with the site, they realise that this will entail returning a 26 million euro grant and are driven back to the drawing board.

Underneath the argumentative banter something else begins to surface, unacknowledged and unpredictable: the pain of what really happened at the villa. The three characters each outline their proposal for the villa site and try to strengthen their case by “acting” the reactions of visitors: trauma, shock, tears. Having acted out these feelings, each returns to a blank emotionless state.

But the three are far from free of personal feelings about the place: it emerges that each is the product of the rape of a prisoner by her guard. This brutal fact is drawn out delicately, and the damage it has done is hinted at obliquely in the eruptions of anger and strange shifts of mood of the three characters, who do a hire-wire act between light-heartedness and despair.

In the linked second play, Discurso, the three characters take on the role of real-life Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, giving a valedictory speech as she leaves office. Bachelet was a victim of torture and her father was murdered by the Pinochet regime. The play allows gives her free rein to discuss this, which she never did in office, and becomes a simple plea for goodness from someone who has suffered indignity and pain.

But there’s also a lightness of touch here: the three Michelles pausing for chatty inner dialogues with each other, before addressing their audience again. The piece is bold in the straighforwardness of its podium setting; significantly, the only theatrical “effect” of the evening, conjuring the earthquake that hit Chile when Bachelet left office, falls flat. But playwright Guillermo Calderón involves and grips with his ideas, and his dialogue is transcendent.

Read Helena's website or her blog Eat Hackney. She tweets as @eathackney.

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