Cervantes Theatre, London – until 30 November 2019
After a cinematic start with the characters caught in spotlights mid-activity, we tumble into The House of the Spirits with a series of brutal scenes – rape, bullying, exploitation, pain. In this feudal world, somewhere in Latin America, the poor are chattels and women are dependent on unruly men for protection. At the story’s heart is a spooky kid, Clara, who sees the future and goes silent for nine years after predicting her sister’s death.
Based on Isabel Allende’s classic novel The House of the Spirits, Caridad Svich’s play flows around the story of the Trueba family. Narrated by Clara’s grandchild Alba, we meet the head of the family, her grandfather Esteban Trueba, dispatching wrongs in all directions like the head of a crazed Amazon warehouse.
Paula Paz’s production is visually beautiful
He is a man who brutalises everyone around him from family, to staff, to the innocent women he violates unchallenged. As his bastards toil his fields, the fruit of their labour is used to underpin a government that courts the powerful. Nobody but spooky Clara, whose cloak of mystic invincibility makes her unknowable, is resistant to his violence, subjugation, or injustice.
Paula Paz’s production at the Cervantes Theatre is visually beautiful. While the magic realism with which the novel resonates is lost from the start with some clunky dialogue and acting, the bar is raised when the leads move centre stage and the story finds its stride. There are highly evocative scenes and images from the horrifying rape of a peasant, to lovers in the woods, and Esteban shrinking in his clothes when his sister curses him.
The second half of The House of the Spirits is gripping. There is clarity around the politics and a cinematic ending that brings the production full circle. The clever set (Alejandro Andujar) and lighting (Nigel A Lewis) give us light, shade, and mystery.
The leads – Constanza Ruff as Clara, Raul Fernandes as Esteban, and Pia Laborde-Noguez as Alba – deliver complex performances with energy and passion. The same cast performs the play in Spanish on alternate nights. Only Clara’s enormous black dog, Barrabas, puppeteered and perfectly voiced by Gian Carlo Ferrini, is mono-lingual.
Whatever the language, there are scenes here that will remain with you long after the performance is over.
The House of the Spirits (La Casa de los Espiritus) continues until 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 most Thursdays to Saturdays. Tickets priced £17.50-£25. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!