This enchanting, surreal play does not provide answers for all the questions it offers, but that only adds to its charm
‘Locus Amoenus’ means happy place in Latin. According to the show, it’s a term evocative of sunlit meadows filled by the sounds of birds, and cozy living rooms warmed by a fire while it snows outside: it means a place that supplies inner peace. The concept of locus amoenus floats above the actual happenings of the show, which are simply the at times awkward, at times touching, interactions of three strangers travelling between Barcelona and London.
In fact there is generally a division between the ideas -of mortality, preparedness, happiness, journeys- suggested by the play and the action of the play, one of the clever moves by acclaimed Catalan theatre company ATRESBANDES. At times, words are projected on the wall at the back of the stage, speaking to the audience over the characters’ heads. These words described some examples of ‘locus amoenus’, providing a counter-setting to the often tense, ridiculous one on stage, suggesting an abstract place, perhaps, towards which the characters are heading, or perhaps a mental place the characters would think back on, at their last moment.
Text on the back wall also immediately informs the audience that in about an hour, there will be an accident and everyone on the train will die.
This sombre piece of information - tragic when confronted with the obliviousness of the characters- is accompanied by some dark humour: that we audience members should be at peace then, because there will be no surprises. What the play implies going forward is that death is really not so much of a surprise for anyone: though society tries continually to deny it, we are all shockingly mortal.
This mix of poignant, deep reflection and dark, absurdist humour permeates the entire atmosphere of the show, the majority of which is comprised of three strangers on a train - speaking a mix of Spanish and English - interacting with each other. There are purposefully over-the-top moments, such as when the only female character on the train spends five minutes loudly opening and reopening all the many zippers on her backpack. Or when the lights go out, as the train speeds under a tunnel, and this same character laughs in a hysterical, comical way. Yet these moments are never simply absurdly funny, for their triviality is made meaningful and poignant with the knowledge that they are some of the last moments that these people, hopelessly unprepared as to their own mortality, will live.
The title remains something of an enigma throughout the performance. Where are these happy places described on the back wall? What should we make of this journey, heading somewhere very different from what the characters expect? This enchanting, surreal play does not provide answers for all the questions it offers, but that only adds to its charm: we have to decide ourselves what to make of this journey we are truly all making.