Writers: Monica Almirall Batet, Albert Perez Hidalgo, Miquel Sergovia Garrell
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
“Hell is other people”, Sartre said, and nowhere is this truer than on public transport, where individuals are thrown randomly together and must endure each other’s foibles for the minutes or hours of the journey. How poignant that becomes when these are the last people you will ever see, and Locus Amoenus by the Spanish Atresbandes Theatre Company explores the last 48 minutes in the lives of three strangers before their train is derailed.
The play opens onboard the 5:07 train from Barcelona where two men are seated together, one asleep on the other’s shoulder and a woman sits further back. Projected behind them is the voice of the unseen narrator or destiny explaining their fate and its cause. What follows examines the irritation of being stuck with strangers and people’s natural tendency to seek interaction in static spaces.
Locus Amoenus is a cleverly constructed comedy and innovatively combines a number of techniques including music, live action and projection in a real-time account of the character’s final moments. It begins subtly with some neat observational humour, no speeches, just the growing frustration of listening to other people repeatedly unzip bags, have exuberant conversations and crunch apples too loudly. Interestingly, this company is not afraid to embrace the stillness that naturally comes from travel and at several points during the play, the characters just stare out of the imaginary windows, exactly as people would on any journey.
There are also plenty of laughs to be had when they begin to interact with one another, particularly as Miguel from Spain and John from London are unable to speak the same language and try to communicate through a series of all too familiar hand gestures and by repeating themselves increasingly loudly. Things take a slightly nastier turn as the unnamed girl gets involved as a translator and feels increasingly pestered to help them out, which she does reluctantly before a confrontation creates disharmony.
The cast has created three distinct characters and thought carefully about the scenarios they want to include which vary in tone to keep the audience interested while mostly feeling entirely credible. John’s excessive grief at one point does seem a little unlikely and the pitch of his later frustration is not really explained – we never find out why – and the girls decision to paint a clown face isn’t clear, but largely this really captures the mixture of boredom and fascination with other people’s business that characterises long journeys.
Monica Almirall Batet, Albert Perez Hidalgo and Miquel Segovia Garrell, who both wrote and perform this work have tapped into an examination of human behaviour that is clearly international. The projected narrator / hand of fate is an excellent device for both keeping the production ‘on track’ and drawing out the wider themes, particularly when it states that ‘one of the biggest limitations in society is that we’re taught to forget that we are mortal’ it certainly underlines the central idea that you never know when it’s your last 48 minutes.
With suggested daydreams of places you could be instead, so typical of commuters, it does make the audience think about how precious their time is and as these three people find, whatever alliances you make on the way, in the final moments you are alone.
Runs until 5 March 2016 | Image:Aaron Sanchez