One of the most mordant comments upon the Columbus quincentenary last year, this show by a Catalan company was dropped from the Seville Expo after being commissioned by it.
In the gymnasium of a psychiatric hospital, doctors encourage the inmates into therapeutically enacting the life of an Amerindian tribe but, led by the visionary Manolo and nymphomaniac "mother of the tribe" Paqui, their shared delusion takes over; the staff appear as conquistadores bringing them under the colonial yoke (symbolised by flamenco dancing, both characteristically Spanish and intensely disciplined), the visiting Director of Health is seen as Queen Isabella, and the ropes of the gymnasium (80 of them in all) create both a jungle and a set of prison bars enclosing the "tribe". In a curt, brutal epilogue the scene shifts to the real jungle, where the inhabitants are driven out by North Americans with machine-guns and a chainsaw.
Brilliantly staged and visually riveting, Yo Tengo... nevertheless suffers from being more textual than it would like to claim. Without even the sparing surtitles which accompanied last summer's triumphant Edinburgh performances, and with a meagre 250-word synopsis of 100 minutes' action, audience response on the first night made it obvious that Spanish-speakers were privy to an exuberant dimension denied the rest of us. While there's so much to see and revel in, the edge is blunted by the inescapable awareness that there's so much more being missed.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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