It’s estimated that over 3,000 Chileans went missing or were killed in the aftermath of the 11 September 1973 coup. Tejas Verdes tells one story.
Standing in The MAC’s dark theatre space with a gritty feel underfoot, the audience listen to the disturbing testimony of six women who explain their involvement in the disappearance of one young Chilean woman, Colorina.
Over an hour, a series of monologues unravel the horror of the physical torture the “leftish revolutionary” endured. A military doctor tries to explain away the scurrilous rumours of abuse. A friends admits the circumstances in which she grassed on Colorina. A gravedigger relives the consequences of showing some humanity.
All six are victims. While the “bad guys” have little to redeem them, they were clearly only cogs within a larger apparatus.
The MAC’s downstairs theatre has been emptied of all its normal furniture and the stage stretches out across the floor space. During the promenade performance, the audience loiter in the ruined concrete shell of the Tejas Verdes torture centre, leaning against pillars and the remains of St Stephen’s church bell tower. Tightly focussed spotlights reveal the location of each actor at the beginning of each scene as the bell rings. It’s an almost colourless canvass with even the costumes pale and muted.
The last scene is spell binding as Férmin Cabal’s text (translated by Robert Shaw) and Sophie Motley’s direction is intensified by Ciaran Bagnall’s brilliant lighting and set design.
Lit from behind with a flood of white beams, for a second each member of the audience feels like they’re looking into her soul as Colorina (played by Amy Molloy) moves across a raised concrete platform and blocks out the light source on the far wall. Finally they can see her clearly … and then she’s back in the glare. It’s an unforgettable scene that the next morning still make my eyes well up with tears.
Trjas Verdes is superb companion piece to Villa and Discurso (reviewed last week) sharing a cast of Bernadette Brown, Pauline Hutton, Eleanor Methven, Amy Molloy and Emma O’Kane. Together the trilogy of Chilean drama by Prime Cut speak powerfully about historic events on the other side of the world, but also powerfully hold up a mirror to Northern Ireland’s situation.
Walking out at the end of Tejas Verdes, I was initially thankful that this island didn’t have the quantity of torture and abuse that Chile suffered under the Pinochet regime. But what about the emerging details about the discovery of the remains of hundreds of babies and children in a concrete septic tank in Tuam? The trauma of the disappeared continue to haunt our understanding of the Troubles. Many players in the conflict still carrying their acts and deeds as they walk the streets. We definitely have our demons to bear and to address.
The play conveys the horror that even one such barbaric act produces. And the extended tragedy when the cover-up of the truth persists long beyond the lives of those directly affected.
Forty years after the 1973 coup, Chile is telling its story. As we approach the fortieth and fiftieth anniversaries of events, are we ready to face the truths about our situation?
All three plays continue at The MAC until 14 June, including triple bills on the next two Saturdays.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about, reports from, live-tweets and live-streams civic, academic and political events and conferences. He delivers social media training/coaching; produces podcasts and radio programmes; is a FactCheckNI director; a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland; and a member of the Corrymeela Community.