Be Good Revolutionaries at the Ovalhouse theatre was the first ever production I had seen at this great South London art center that I found to be disappointing. Dirty Market was commissioned by the Ovalhouse to create this political drama that felt very much like a devised piece of theatre.
Walking into the space, I was captivated by the design. It felt like entering a haunted house or an amusement park ride, but in a far off world, perhaps, atop the mountains of Manchu Picchu. A guitarist strums away at her guitar and hands out the occasional note to passersby. This sort of entry set up certain expectations for me. Expectations that were never met because the production was of the same quality of a haunted house or circus show in respect to its intent and authenticity.
As a Latino-American I was a little uneasy going into this show, as I wondered what a production in London could say about the conflicts going on in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. The set design and allusions to “Los Dias de los muertos” instantly put me into a world of my people. But, the content of the play seemed very superficial and a very classist view of what it means to be a revolutionary. This is a topic that has been masterfully addressed before. Films like The Motorcycle Diaries and Che artfully have looked at the intricate and oft hypocritical worlds of revolutionaries and young leftist freedom fighters.
This production, however, felt like a very watered down Brechtian piece. I felt like I was watching a languid version of Mother Courage. Three children and a mother during a time of conflict…if it wasn’t an attempt at Brecht’s seminal play, then I don’t know theatre at all!
It was hard to sit through this show and realize all the tools were there for a great production. The story was interesting, the set was beautiful, and the topic was current, but it felt lazy. There was no direction and at times the actors felt like they were all in very different plays. I questioned certain directorial decisions. There is a moment after the children are introduced that the daughters begin a modern dance, gyrating and fluttering like birds, but it made absolutely no sense. It was just spectacle for the sake of spectacle, which if I was seeing a musical in the West End I could simply accept, but not for a political piece like this.
A fellow attendee and I got to talking after the show whilst we both waited for our train home, and she put it quite bluntly, but perhaps truthfully, “it was a White middle class interpretation of what’s going on.” Harsh yes, but there was a certain brash awareness that this is not what goes on in the jungles of South America. I wonder whose story this was? I think this production is still trying to figure it out for itself. And, it desperately needs to answer that question.
Performed at the Ovalhouse until the 23rd June.