Magazine article The Spectator

The Full Brazilian

Magazine article The Spectator

The Full Brazilian

Article excerpt

The Assault/ The Last Days of Gilda

Old Red Lion



London in August. It's the capital's sabbatical. Theatre is all Edinburgh right now and the London-bound play-goer feels dislocated, irrelevant almost, alienated by accidents of chance and inclination, like a Hebrew at Christmas, a teetotaller on St Patrick's day, an honest man in the Labour party. There's still theatre to be had, though. The hunger remains, the unappeasable ache. A Brazilian double bill catches my eye. When it comes to Brazilian theatre - and I come to Brazilian theatre often - I'm more than an enthusiast, I'm a proto-fanatic. My expectations are vast. My sense of anticipation is beyond measure. The words 'theatre' and 'Brazil' produce seismic eruptions. I've never visited South America but I've seen it on TV, and with every beat of its voluptuous and exuberant heart, Brazil is pure theatre. Sheer theatre. The beaches are Lupercalia, the women are gypsy goddesses, the bikinis are acid-trips, the cocktails are grand operas, the fireworks are moon shots, the parties are riots followed by orgies followed by siestas followed by grilled lobster on the shore-line at sunset, where incense mingles with pheromones and cigar fumes. Or so I imagine. And Brazilian theatre markets itself very skilfully over here. A Brazilian play arriving in England will invariably claim the label 'masterpiece', 'classic', 'runaway success', 'multi-award-winning sell-out hit'.

And invariably it will be garbage. But still those simple words 'Brazilian theatre' work their magic and I'm lured in a heady mist of sensuous expectation towards the Old Red Lion in Islington.

The experience justifies the hype. I get a full Brazilian. The wrong sort, alas, and I emerge plucked, shorn and bleeding. Maybe I exag-gerate but my hopes for the prize-encrust-ed play The Assault weren't disappointed so much as kidnapped and buried alive. This is the sort of undemanding apprentice piece that English theatres stage all the time. The themes are money and sex. A gay banker detains his handsome, grumpy cleaner and solicits him with bribes of stolen cash. The set-up is banal, the plot isn't great and the meatiest debating point - wealth's inclina-tion to exploit want - is hardly front-page news unless you read Marxism Today.

Characterisation is the problem. The char-acters aren't nice. That shouldn't matter but it does. Iago isn't nice but his flaws have a gran-deur that engages and fascinates. These char-acters' flaws lack magnificence, they inspire no respect, fear or troubled envy. …

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