Patricia Selonk stars as Laura - a 40 year-old-woman, grappling with a deteriorating neurological disease - in this exciting production from Armazem Theatre Company, part of this year’s Brazil Theatre Season. The production is in Portuguese, with clearly visible, perfectly in sync English surtitles. At no point is it a struggle to read and follow the action; in fact, I quickly forgot that I was having to read at all.
This is bold, inventive, intelligent theatre and it deserves a far bigger crowd.
The play starts as Laura and her husband Jonas - played by Marcos Martins - discover a huge living fish in their garden. The couple lift the fish but it is too heavy and wriggles out of their hands. On dropping the fish, Laura topples backward into a pool of water, crashes about, and rises with a metal bucket on her head. It’s at this point that we learn that Laura suffered an accident as a child, resulting in three brain operations; the appearance of the fish brings back the signs of her disease and she begins to experience flashbacks from childhood and strange ‘beautiful music’ which only she can hear. Concerned for his wife, Jonas encourages Laura to submit to more treatment: the play can be seen as one woman’s attempt to accept and understand her illness, without medical attention. Jonas wants to give his wife tranquilisers during her manic episodes - Laura wants to record the imaginary music, declaring, ‘I want the symptom, not the cure’ and later ‘this music…which is myself’.
‘Water will find out all your secrets’, says Laura’s dead father, Pedro - played with humour and sensitivity by Ricardo Martins - and it is through encounters with water that we learn more about the protagonist’s childhood, her losses, and traumas. If there is one slight criticism it is that all the references to water - ‘water heals everything’, ‘everything produces waves’, ‘I live in the deep waters of your brain’, etc. - feels a little forced and portentous. But it is no mean feat to create a surreal play that relies so much on successful use of multimedia and that feels genuinely moving and gripping enough to hold the audience’s attention at this late hour.
This is a well-considered piece of theatre, superbly conceived and acted, surreal but accessible and never ridiculous. Visually arresting and thought-provoking, the action unfurls so that the audience gradually builds up a picture of Laura - we are never told what to think, we work it out for ourselves by picking up the clues. The cast make skilful use of the pool of water: dancing, falling and throwing bucket after bucket of water into the air. The surtitles are clearly visible and well-written, the few props are thoughtfully-chosen and the guitar music that runs throughout mirrors the protagonist’s mental state beautifully. Such a shame then that at my performance, there were so few in the audience. This is bold, inventive, intelligent theatre and it deserves a far bigger crowd.