“I have seen the blood of Spain”
“Ni en la vida ni en la guerra se puede triunfar sin fe.” The 1937 words of the Spanish Republican Prime Minister Juan Negrín are draped across the window of Morito Tapas Bar to beckon us into the highly evocative world of La Turista:Café Duende, a piece of dinner theatre that seeks to give a taste not only of some excellent Iberian cuisine but also of life during the Spanish Civil War. The quote translates roughly as “not in life nor war can one succeed without faith” and through Jamie Harper’s intricately pieced-together script, we bear witness to the different kinds of faith that saw people through the most difficult of times.
Hobo Theatre’s aim is to produce theatre in unconventional locations and the crowded intimacy of one of Exmouth Market’s most highly rated eateries certainly fits that bill. The easy conviviality of the space, combined with the realities of informal dining, creates a decidedly non-theatrical environment, an astute choice which fits the suggestively dark moods of La Turista perfectly. Split into four acts, interspersed with three courses of dinner, the show is less concerned with a theatrical narrative than evoking the mysterious spirit of duende, of deep feeling, of an almost spiritual connection with art.
Harper – whose previous work includes Beyond the Pale, one of the better examples of promenading interactive theatre in recent years – has achieved this by pulling together a chorus of seven nameless individuals, known only by their trades – the writer, the poet, the photographer and so on – and putting into their mouths, the words, thoughts and deeds of the artistic and creative minds that gathered in Spain at the time. So hints of the prose of Hemingway, the poems of Lorca, the paintings of Miró swirl around the restaurant, roughly divided thematically but always focused on deep currents of emotion and matched perfectly by heart-achingly beautiful music and songs, led from Andre Ionescu’s guitar.
And Sam Clark and Marianna Leivaditaki’s food is just sensational: the freshness of the beetroot borani, the depth of flavour in the deliciously tender rabbit stew, even the smoked almonds on the table as you arrive are a thing of wonder. The choice to chase the ephemeral quality of the duende means that those looking for something more substantial on the theatrical side may come away a little disappointed and it is true, it is the wonderfully intense intimacy of the performers rather than the stories they are telling that lingers most in the mind. But that shouldn’t detract from the quality of what is achieved here and it certainly all adds up to the kind of remarkable evening of entertainment to which it is well worth treating oneself.