Lyric Studio, London W6
Opened 16 March, 2006

A number of mid-scale London venues now boast programmes for the presentation and development of new work. In the case of the Lyric Hammersmith, this takes the form of its annual season entitled theMIX, in which The Dende Collective’s production first appeared last year as a work in progress. Dende, a company dedicated to bringing the Brazilian experience to British stages (and who even take their name from the oil used in cooking in the north-eastern province of Bahia), have adapted the novel by Bahian writer Jorge Amado, ans stage it in an ebullient, entertaining manner from their first carnivalesque entrance.

Protagonist Flor is first seduced by the charismatic wastrel Vadinho. He fritters away all his money and drink, whores and gambling, and makes a start on Flor’s savings from her cookery teaching, when his heart gives out and he dies in the street. After a year of widowhood Flor, still a young woman, meets hidebound pharmacist Teodoro, and they marry. Teodoro is infinitely considerate, but his adherence to routine proves stifling; in particular, the couple’s “appointments with passion” on Wednesday and Saturday nights are over in seconds. At this point Flor receives a ghostly visitor…

André Pink’s staging is always lively and imaginative (if occasionally prone to modish cliché such as Mark Reid’s “fat bloke in drag” appearances). The international cast of six, augmented by three musicians, whirl around a stage decorated by little more than a number of wheeled screens upon which Ramon Abad projects shadowplays involving puppets, live bodies and even liquid. However, Mark O’Thomas’s deft adaptation cannot eliminate one of the fundamental differences between the page and the stage: the difference between the linear narrative of a novel and the dramatic arc. The central complication, the ectoplasmic ménage-à-trois, emerges only two-thirds of the way through this 90-minute production, where Noël Coward took only a single scene to set up his corresponding arrangement in Blithe Spirit. The first hour, albeit lively and diverting, seems not so much directed towards a narrative end as simply one event succeeding another.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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