Monday, 2 March 2009

Over the Mountains

Friday 27th February

The big day for Los Trashumantes. The performance of their show in Babia. Most of the company have to work in the mornings, so it was a slow start to the day as the group gathered together, ran some lines, loaded the van and worked on their projection. Young Ruben, the trainee teacher and the older Theo, a cattle farmer had an argument argument about the quickest way to cross the mountains. Ruben, who co-wrote the show and is emerging as a young, but dynamic, potential leader for the group, felt that we should drive out to the motorway, skirt the range and come back into the valley 15km further north. Theo had never heard such nonsense and wanted us to take the winding roads that had been good before the motorway and remain good now the motorway has been built! ... More metaphors.

Eventually they agreed to differ and Theo came with us in Spiral's van eagerly providing a running commentary of the journey, half tour guide, half excited child. He had a story for each field, stream or farm. He's lived in the valley all his life and his house is divided between living quarters upstairs and the four cows in his herd who have the run of the ground floor.

We arrived at the school where the public meeting had been taking place in time for the communal meal. Chunks of mildly spiced horse meat, fresh bread and more robust red wine. One of the characters in the play, played by ex-miner Manuel, is a local Mayor. He's portrayed as arrogant, flash, charismatic, but out of touch with local opinion. In short a small town self-important bureaucrat. I'd been told that the audience would have local politicians of a similar ilk and it wasn't hard to spot them quaffing, back slapping and full of bonhomie over lunch.

At four o'clock - a difficult siesta inducing hour in the Spanish day - the performance started. It was fascinating. The Mayors deliberately came in late and sat on tables at the back of the hall, unwilling to fully endorse the play, but nevertheless keen to be seen as supporting local initiatives. At first they talked loudly, texted and laughed. When Manuel first appeared they indicated to each other in recognition. Manuel though is a subtle actor and quickly got under their skin. During one early scene where the Mayor is seen trying to bribe a local Garda who has pulled him over for using a mobile phone whilst driving - they began to squirm mildly. Some sat back arms folded, watching with suspicion, some moved to take up a different position in the room, where they would not be sitting with colleagues and identified as the object of ridicule, some even bagan filming the action on their phones to distance themselves from Manuel's performance. It was clear that recognition was occurring both amongst the Mayors and the rest of the audience, who began to turn round with regularity to nod and point.

Forum theatre is irresistible and Carolina took a couple of interventions before one of the more corrupt politicians, fearful of the loss of his hunting privileges that changes to the valley might bring, began to disagree. Carolina rightly backed off and let a full debate explode in the hall. A brief moment of spontaneous, unstructured local democracy.

In the bar afterwards further debate raged over the meaning of the piece, the value of participation and the government's plans. What was very clear was the huge pride Los Trashumantes had in bringing their work to heart of the region and having the opportunity to instigate and develop the agenda.

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