Actor Constanza Ruff is a big fan of novelist, and fellow Chilean, Isabel Allende. We talked to her about performing the stage adaptation of Allende’s best-known novel The House of the Spirits in both English and Spanish in a brand-new bilingual production at the Cervantes Theatre.
Charting the rise and fall of the Trueba family in an unnamed Latin American country, The House of the Spirits spans the 1920s through the 1970s, as the country moves through enormous sociopolitical changes that culminate in a devastating dictatorship. The play is told from the point of view of the youngest of three generations of women, Alba, who, as the play opens, is held in a government torture cell.
The 1982 novel of The House of the Spirits catapulted Chilean writer Isabel Allende to international literary stardom. This award-winning stage version is adapted, in both English and Spanish, by Caridad Svich, and directed by Cervantes Theatre co-founder Paula Paz.
Constanza Ruff at The House of The Spirits post-show talk chaired by Terri Paddock at the Cervantes Theatre
Talking to… Constanza Ruff
Chilean-born Constanza Ruff is a bilingual actor, improviser, physical theatre and circus performer. Her other UK stage credits include Second Movement, Visions of Tiriel, Imagining Europe, Wild Works, The BitchBoxer, Hamley and Helter Skelter. In the Cervantes bilingual production of The House of the Spirits, presented (on different nights) in both English and Spanish, Ruff plays Clara, the first generation of Trueba women.
Which Isabel Allende novels have you?
I have read The House of the Spirits, Eva Luna and Paula. From the first two, I like how wholesome the worlds she creates are, how you can connect with different parts of every character you meet along the way. From Paula, I think it’s her emotional honesty. I think you can really ‘feel’ all of her books.
How does this adaptation of The House of the Spirits differ from the novel?
It only chooses some of the characters, and it focuses on telling the main arch of the family’s history. In that sense, you lose some of the novel’s narrative, yet the audience has the opportunity to know a bit about the Truebas, what they go through as a family, how that reflect on the country they live in and vice versa. It’s also an opportunity of getting people interested in the novel and hopefully read it if they haven’t.
Tell us about your character.
I play Clara. She’s psychic. She has glimpses of the future, and although she cannot change it, she writes about every single detail of her life in order for future generations to understand their past and stop repeating it.
What research, if any, have you done for the role?
I wish I could have learnt how to be a psychic! I just read the novel again and got myself re-acquainted with the story.
How challenging is it doing both English & Spanish performances?
It’s a bit bonkers. Sometimes your Spanish head wants to make comments halfway through the English run and vice versa. But it’s fun, challenging and a beautiful way of exploring the play.
Why should audiences see The House of the Spirits?
Because it’s a great introduction not just to a brilliant novel but to Latin-American history. It’s also a call to review your own history and how doing so can make you understand yourself and the country you live in better.
Speaking of great novels, any book recommendations you can share?
Rupi Kaur. She’s outstanding. The Sun and Her Flowers is always on my bedside table.
The House of the Spirits (La Casa de los Espiritus) runs from 28 October to 30 November 2019 at the Cervantes Theatre, Arch 26, Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR, with 7.30pm performances, in Spanish Mondays to Wednesdays, in English on Thursdays to Saturdays. Tickets priced £17.50-£25. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!
— Terri Paddock (@TerriPaddock) November 4, 2019