Platero y Yo is an adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning poet Juan Ramon Jimenez’s book of the same name, performed entirely in Spanish by students from the University of Puerto Rico. However, this is not a show for Spanish speakers only; the students bring the stories of Platero to the stage with such life and colour that even if the language is incomprehensible to you, the meaning is usually very clear.
Platero is a gentle silver donkey much loved by his owner, the poet. Together the pair wander into various short scenes, most around five minutes long, that impart a moral message or lesson about life. The messages are simple but poetic and the production is full of brightly coloured props and inventive physical staging that infuses each scene with fresh interest. The cast of students are phenomenal, committing so much energy and enthusiasm to each moment that they make Blue Peter presenters look like grumpy cynics. Dressed in bright colours and occasionally wielding guitars, they create the vibrant settings of Andalucía with fast costume changes and a dazzling variety of props.
There are some moments of spectacular beauty in the production: ‘The River’ presents simply affective bright imagery that looks like a child’s painting brought to life. The actors playing Platero and the Poet also deserve commendation for investing so fully in their roles to make the outcome of the play deeply moving.
There are, however, a few problems with the piece. The cast is large and there seems to have been an effort to get as many members as possible on stage at once, which results in a couple of scenes that are too crowded. The quieter moments that depend on solo performances stand out more because of this and, given the obvious talents of the cast, one or two slower moments would have been welcome. The ‘Angelus’ scene in particular could be sparser as the imagery is good enough to stand alone, rather than crowd the stage. It’s also clear that they try to avoid repeating staging ideas, but too often they rely on a change of props rather than a different idea to convey that.
Overall, this is a visually inventive, energetic show that is best suited for families; the exquisite and sometimes serious moments provide enough engagement for adults while the affecting story of his man and his donkey will engage children. The fact that it is in Spanish should provide no barrier to enjoying the show - it’s just a shame that few in the audience will be able to understand the fine words of Jimenez. If this problem had been surmounted more effectively this would easily have been a four star show, and for Spanish speakers it will be.