Writer: Jorge Amado
Adaptor / Director: Franko Figueiredo
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Everyone dreams of how they would spend a million pounds, an exotic holiday perhaps, a luxury car, their own home, but what would you really do to get the money? Nobel Prize nominee Jorge Amado used this question to test the moral fortitude of his characters in his much-adapted novel Tieta do Agreste which StoneCrabs theatre company have adapted for the stage as Tieta: The Trial examining the true price of justice.
Hounded from her hometown in Brazil for wanting to become female, Tieta has become a millionaire in London and regularly sends money back to support the local community in Agreste. Used to the constant handouts, the townspeople are in uproar when the money abruptly stops and, assuming the worst, scheme to inherit Tieta’s fortune. But Tieta is on her way home with a million to spend on true justice.
This one-woman show, performed by Ines Sampaio is an intriguing mix of narrative, performance and live music, centred around a twisting moral conundrum. Told across five chapters, each with its own scene announcement and mini-summary, Tieta: The Trialpurposefully asks the audience to decide who are the heroes and villains of the story, while a Quiz-style audience vote at the end determines which of the show’s three outcomes is performed and what kind of justice is dispensed.
Throughout the 75-minute show, Sampaio is tasked with creating a distinctive cast of villagers including a rotund, cigar-smoking mayor, a dubious priest and chorus of gossipy voices, as well as the play’s central family Tieta’s hunched and grouchy father and grasping sister Perpetua. Sampaio has a gift for comic delivery, physically leaping every time she switches character, and convincingly suggesting an array of exaggerated and amusing traits that distinguish her characters.
Adapted by Franko Figueiredo, the main thrust of the story is broken-up with occasional flashbacks that help to set the scene, and Saki Toriumi’s lighting design which punctuates the movement through time, as well as contrasting the starkly lit narrator with the varied tones of the characters. The build-up to Tietra’s arrival in Chapter Three, is well managed, giving the audience only fragments of information, prolonging the suspense until her flamboyance is revealed in a well-constructed celebratory scene.
After this, the direction becomes less certain and while Figueiredo plays with audience sympathies to provoke thoughts about the moral dubiety of Tieta’s demands, scenes from the final two chapters feel a little repetitive as characters cover the same ground several times. This could be a little tighter, perhaps cutting 5 or 10 minutes from the show, as well as increasing the dramatic impact of the conclusion.
Sampaio uses a loop pedal to create her own music onstage, adding to the atmosphere of the story, referencing Brazilian culture and adding useful breaks between and within the chapters to vary the tone. Interestingly, despite a history of abuse, rape and betrayal, the character of Tieta is fairly unlikeable, using money acquired immorally for an immoral purpose. This ambiguity is deliberate, but with the show’s over-riding purpose to celebrate being who you are, these two things seem slightly at odds with one another.
With a small tour of London fringe theatres in July and August, there is plenty of time to polish and refine Tieta: The Trial. It’s a thoughtful and skilfully created piece that asks some tricky questions about what we might be prepared to sacrifice for a lot of money. Even if you finally get to sail away on the yacht, someone has to pay.
Touring until 10 August 2018 | Image: Contributed