Not a Review: Cinema Red, Royal Court

“Men get hard just watching me dance”

As part of the International Playwrights season, Cinema Red was one of the rehearsed readings featuring writers with whom the Royal Court has established relationships in order to give them opportunities to showcase the work that has been developed in their creative partnerships in a certain region of the world. At the moment it is Latin America under the spotlight with Colombian play Our Private Life currently running upstairs. This particular play though is by Mexican playwright Zaría Abreu and we watched it in illustrious company which included Mike Bartlett and Chloë Moss.

As ever with readings, this shouldn’t be treated as a formal review, but rather for information as a collection of my thoughts about it. Set in Mexico, in and around a brothel/porn cinema, it follows the lives of some of people who float around, visiting, working there and the dreams they have to get them through the day. Directed by Indhu Rubasingham, it took a slightly different take on the way it was read, one that I hadn’t seen before and took a little getting used to, in that in each of the four locations, a different actor took the responsibility of reading the stage directions but I soon got used to it. And it really was an engaging 90 minutes of thrilling new writing and some great acting even whilst reading from scripts sitting down in chairs.

Perhaps inevitably for a play set largely in a brothel, it was rather explicit and full of language but it always felt natural and appropriate, never just played for laughs but rather exposing the pathetic sadness of women forced to sell themselves in this set-up. Sandra Voe’s Sasha was the stand-out in this respect, a woman who’s been working the game for 50 years yet still a virgin and wickedly funny with it, the scene where she tried to give Héctor an education on how to turn a women with his fingers was absolutely hilarious (Jenny Jules nearly lost it several times sitting next to it) and was played brilliantly by Leo Bill too with his gauche nervousness. We are big fans of Leo Bill round these parts and he is perfect casting for this role of Héctor, the awkwardness, the dreaminess, the soul-crushing tragedy of the end, he delivered them all expertly, with strong support from Kika Markham as his bed-ridden mother, and I really hope that he remains attached to it if the play returns to the UK.

Jenny Jules was also superb as the prostitute Alondra with her dreams of seeing penguins for the first time and aspirations of a life outside of the brothel which leaves her unable to stop herself from bending the rules, especially with her client with ‘special requests’ Rick Warden’s Luís which threatens to jeopardise everything. Kerron Darby’s The Kid was perhaps the character I was least keen on, I couldn’t quite see his motivations being where he was and/or why he was doing what he did.

Next week sees two plays from Chile being presented in the same format and if this was anything to go by, then I reckon they’d be well worth a late afternoon punt. As far as Abreu and Cinema Red is concerned, she clearly has a potential hit on her hands here and a gift for punchily direct characterisation which should be watched out for.

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