Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London SW1
Opened 18 February, 2011

Nuestras Vidas Privadas premièred in Pedro Miguel Rozo’s native Colombia in 2009, where it won a major playwriting competition. It seems, in Simon Scardifield’s eminently playable English translation, both witty and intelligent. Rozo plays amusing games with the convention of the aside, for instance, resulting in characters eavesdropping on one another’s “thoughts”; overall, too, he is very canny at leavening serious subject matter with black comedy but without trivialising it. That would have been an outrage to vast numbers of us, because his subject is child sexual abuse.
Don Jose, it is rumoured around the small town, tried to interfere with his former farm employee’s 12-year-old son; his own sons, now adults, seem under hypnosis by a psychiatrist to recover memories that they too were assaulted. Rozo’s play is principally about the ramifications within the family. Elder son Sergio (adopted or illegitimate, we don’t know, but “he’s not your dad”) secretly funds a lawyer to prosecute young Joaquin’s case; younger son Carlos’s psychological imbalances are not helped, to say the least (almost the first words to him from his mother onstage are “You mustn’t stop taking the Lithium”); their mother ostentatiously supports her husband even through her own uncertainties. Each has their own issues, mainly sexual, which influence their attitudes towards the case; in comparison the resentfulness of Joaquin’s mother and the urbane manipulations of the shrink are simple – they scent money.
All of which is fine, as far as it goes. But Rozo seems to have on the one hand an admirably complex concept of paedophilia (for instance, he does not, as most of us now do, equate it simply with sexual abuse of children), yet on the other a strangely simplistic one of homosexuality, which also recurs throughout the play in incongruously bald terms. I do not think these are simply the views of the characters; a few remarks about religion versus reason, the church versus the couch, seem similarly reductive at an authorial level. These apparently unsubtle, un-nuanced attitudes call into question the thoughtfulness elsewhere, raising the possibility that this is simply another workaday drama combining family tensions and sexual scandal (the climactic family confrontation is even set over Christmas lunch), which hits a few haunting notes purely by fluke.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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