The opening of Solfatara prepares you for something atmospheric - a bit creepy, a bit strange. A man in a brown balaclava sits in a chair at the front of the stage. There is a spotlight on him. He breathes heavily into a microphone and begins to talk about volcanic eruptions. Then - without ever quite letting you shake off that sense of unease - it suddenly because riotously funny.
This show, by Catalan theatre company Atresbandes, tells the story of a couple going through a break-up, desperately trying to hold it together. They have an argument about puff pastry (if there’s one thing you’ll learn from this show, it’s the Spanish for ‘puff pastry’). They hold a dinner party which, to put it mildly, doesn’t really go all that well. Mònica Almirall and Miquel Segovia perform with well-judged preciseness the couple’s strained attempts to appear happy and well in front of their dinner guests. Albert Pèrez, as the man in the balaclava, voices their inner thoughts, encourages each to act in a provocative way, plays with them to create tension. His performance is the most compelling of all, flicking from endearing to funny to sinister in a heartbeat. At times his character seems like the only sane one on stage, at times the cause of all the couple’s woes.
The scenes, at their most manic and ridiculous, can be difficult to follow - it’s easy to lose track of the dinner party - though this must be due in part to the language barrier. The difficulties of performing a show in Spanish to an English-speaking audience, however, are remarkably well overcome. The surtitles, created by Ann Bangle and Felix Andrews, add an extra layer of British humour to the show, refusing to translate at bits they claim have ‘zero dramatic interest’, going on tangents and recording the difficulties of translating the puff pastry argument. Perhaps this adds to the slightly confusing elements of the show but at the same time, the majority of the dialogue is translated perfectly clearly and the surtitles provided quite a few of the show’s not infrequent belly laughs.
This is a play that will give you a good giggle but it’s not any old Fringe comedy. It’s thoughtful and asks you to consider the causes of this break-up and how people deal with the bubbling emotions inside them.