Review: The Big Idea – PIIGS Spain, Royal Court via YouTube

“The wealth has been distributed differently, but they take your house too”

The Spanish take on The Big Idea featured the short plays Chalk Land by Vanessa Montfort and Merit by Alexandra Wood, interspersed with some verbatim accounts of interviews that Montfort conducted with some Spanish people. Though the last to be performed, this was actually the first of the set that I watched but I genuinely did find it hugely engaging from start to finish. Director Richard Twyman ensured that Chalk Land had the visual humour, though of a distinctly bittersweet note, to accompany the conversation between a homeless man and a passer-by full of indignance at the injustice of the world, Robert Lonsdale and Mariah Gale pairing up well.

And Wood’s Merit was a fascinating look at the ethical compromises people are willing to make in terms of getting and securing a job, but also at the ethics of friends and family around us from whom we might well benefit. Meera Syal and Paul Chahidi as the parents pussyfooting around their concern for their daughter, Gale again full of righteous fire, both giving excellent performances. I really enjoyed the verbatim accounts though, raising the powerful issue of how media coverage of austerity shies away from the ordinariness of so many of the victims and preferring to focus on stock images of poverty-ridden people in order to separate ‘them’ from ‘us’ even as the dividing line has become so blurred as to not even exist any more.

And because I was enjoying the theatre so much, the filming of it didn’t bother me half as much as it did when watching Masterpieces, so perhaps it is less of a deal than I originally thought. Especially considering that this format is hugely widening access to these punchy new plays, it does feel a little churlish to criticise the quality too strongly. But in any case, if you’re only going to watch one of these PIIGS films, I’d go for Spain.  


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