Blue Elephant Theatre, London – until 19 October 2019
Guest reviewer: Claire Roderick
Amanda Vilanova’s Hurricane Diaries is a moving and passionate tribute to her home country, Puerto Rico. Her play will tug at the heartstrings of anyone who has moved away from their home, culture and family, but it is impossible to imagine what it must have been like to watch the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Maria from an ocean away.
On an almost bare stage evoking a home after the storm has passed, stacked with cardboard boxes and bordered by pots and pans catching drips of water that provide a constant accompaniment to the performance, Vilanova reads entries from a diary. Her mother’s memories of Hurricane Hugo before Amanda was born and Amanda’s memories of Hurricane Georges in 1998, viewing the devastation through the horrified eyes of a child, are recalled in between telling Amanda’s life story and her subsequent decision to leave the island.
We are also given a quick Spanish lesson and an irreverent and rebellious history lesson, complete with flip chart and maps, detailing the exploitation of Puerto Rico since Columbus and his “pirates” landed. The United States’ attitude to and treatment of the Puerto Ricans is shocking and Vilanova’s anger and frustration is palpable. Her joy at Puerto Rican victories over US teams is infectious and volcanic as David finally gets one over on Goliath. Wepa! (Just imagine how Wales and Scotland feel when we beat England at rugby and multiply by 1000.) Salsa music drifts over the story at times to act as a salve after particularly testing moments in Vilanova’s personal story, but she doesn’t sugar-coat the Puerto Rican authorities’ response to student strikes or the attitude of some Puerto Rican men towards women.
Under Oliver Hamilton’s assured direction, Vilanova’s writing becomes almost hypnotic as her story builds, with her delivery and performance drawing in the audience with ease and lightening the mood with a killer one-liner when things threaten to get too heavy. Her final story from the book is about the mango tree in her family’s garden, leafless after Maria, but now beginning to bud, ending with a wonderful message of hope, resilience and new life after catastrophe – for the tree, her family and Puerto Rico.
A spellbinding story of love, loss and belonging that needs to be heard.