The playwright Guillermo Calderon, born 1971 in Santiago, grew up during the military dictatorship of Pinochet and was a university student when Chile became a democratic country. Calderon’s uncle was shot for allegedly being a left-wing activist. Diciembre is the third of Calderon’s trilogy of political plays following Neva, set in 1905 pre-revolutionary Russia, and Class, dramatising the 2006 “Penguin Revolution” strike by Chilean students.
Diciembre is set in the future, on Christmas Eve, 2014 when Chile, Peru and Bolivia are at war, echoing the War of the Pacific (1879-84), a dispute over mineral rights and maritime borders. The domestic scenario is a family gathering - Jorge, a soldier on leave, and his elder twin sisters, Trinidad and Paula, who are both pregnant.
The simple set is a kitchen dining table under the glow of bright colourful Christmas fairy lights. A soundtrack of popular festive songs emphasise, ironically, seasonal peace and goodwill, as the discussion turns to Jorge’s involvement in the war. Trinidad is a pacifist who tries to persuade her brother to desert, while Paula, a staunch nationalist, supports the fighting. As they state their case, neither sister really considers Jorge’s personal feelings.
The dialogue is sharp witted, aggressive and, as other family characters appear briefly to add their view, the polemic is tinged with black humour. The structure and dynamic of this three-handed play, is reminiscent of “Copenhagen” by Michael Frayn, in which three characters debate the wartime development of nuclear weapons. No action, just a brilliant verbal tennis match of facts, beliefs and opinion.
Unfortunately, in this Spanish language production of Diciembre, English surtitles are screened at the side of the Dress Circle, allowing for only fragmented glimpses of the actual conversation on stage. Especially during the final, crucial hard-hitting monologues, much of the emotive power of the interaction is lost – as we stare at the screens, reading, not listening to, each poetic word or observing the manner and expression of dramatic performance.
Surtitle problems aside, this is intimate, thought-provoking theatre in the raw. Calderon founded Teatro en el Blanco, (Theatre on Target), for a small united company of actors, to tour plays about Chilean culture and politics to an international audience.
2 - 4 September, 8pm
4 September, 2.30pm
£10 - £27