“Somebody spoiled their ballot”
Continuing the International Playwrights season at the Royal Court was the first of two readings of Chilean Guillermo Calderón’s plays, Villa. Based around a table discussion between three women, appointed to a committee to make a decision about what to do with a mansion, the villa of the title, in which unspeakable atrocities were carried out by the (now presumably defunct) ruling regime. Tensions are running high in the community about how best to deal with it or what they are actually trying to do here, commemorate the tragedies, secure the legacy, forget it even happened, with public meetings degenerating into violence as the two proposals were debated: raze it to the ground or build a museum in it.
So Macarena, Carla and Francisca are the three representatives have been selected and put into a room to come up with a decision and Calderon lets their debate run in real time with to great effect. There’s a great set-up in which it is made immediately apparent that at least one of the women has a hidden agenda here and from then on, the power games commence as they each circle the others, trying to ascertain if they are friend or foe, whether they can be relied upon for the casting vote for their preferred option. The most beautiful writing came with the scenes where Carla and Francisca each presented the case for one proposal, with achingly painful clarity that packed a hefty emotional punch, then beautifully undercut by the their final assertion that this isn’t necessarily what they believe in themselves.
The quality of cast that the Royal Court has managed to pull together for these readings has generally been superb, but I could barely repress a skip of joy when I read the (previously unannounced) programme note as I entered the theatre that the rather marvellous Claudie Blakley was playing one of the women, along with Indira Varma and Emma Lowndes. Blakley did not disappoint as the slippery intelligent Francisca playing the long game with her persuasive arguments. Varma’s role was more of an equivocator to which she was ideally suited she is such an elegant performer who I would like to much more of and the passive-aggressiveness of Lowndes’ Carla with her sly manipulation of her colleagues, trying to play them off against each other, also impressed.
Villa struck me as a really rather strong piece of drama, the voice of a country struggling to deal with the impact of living under an oppressive regime which perpetrated such crimes against its own people and the difficulties in balancing the importance of moving onto the future with ensuring that the lessons of the past are never forgotten. The quiet revelations at the end of this play were hauntingly beautiful and I am gutted that I cannot see the sister piece in this season, Speech, as Calderón’s voice is an important one.