Mendoza, Southwark Playhouse

by guest critic Nastazja Somers

A Shakespeare expert, friend of mine always says, “I love Shakespeare but I hate watching it, most of the time it bores me”. And isn’t it the truth? I get to see a lot of the Bard’s plays and most of the time I leave theatres feeling uninspired and craving a surprise. I yearn for Shakespeare productions that will move audiences whilst placing them in a centre a collective experience.

Museum pieces don’t achieve that and neither do gimmicks, which a lot of directors mistake for a tool to make the works relevant and contemporary – yet relevance is born from context and form. Mexican company Los Colochos Teatro not only knows how to utilize Shakespeare’s Scottish Play in order to tell a story of the here and now, but also uses human imagination in a simple, yet creative and immersive way. Their Mendoza, based on Macbeth, is one of the best Shakespeare productions I have seen.

As you enter the theatre at Southwark Playhouse, the actors are there to greet you, show to your seat and encourage you to breathe in the space. This seemingly brief encounter becomes increasingly significant the further we are into the piece. The intimacy of the space and the openness of the ensemble fosters bonding with the performers and growing with them as the story progresses. This is an experience, not just a production you watch and forget about. Every minute detail in Juan Carrillo’s take on this classic is a feast for your senses.

Set during the 19th century Mexico War of Independence, the production brings us closer towards the understanding of Mexican history by putting the character of General Mendoza centre stage. Driven by the famous prophecy from, in this instance, an old witch, and encouragement from his wife, Mendoza sets upon a journey full of blood and despair. The most vivid contextual choice from Carrillo is that Mendoza is also driven by  ideology and love for his country. He tries to excuse his actions in the name of patriotism rather than his own benefit. If this is not current politics of the whole world, I don’t know what is.

There is so much sheer creativity in the concept the company uses to lure their audiences into this timeless yet significant story. Props serve as different tools and objects, placing Los Colochos Teatros amongst those creatives who not only possess an incredible amount of imagination, but also with their passion and commitment summon their audiences to accept the make-believe formula. This is a hard task in a day an age where multimedia and high technology controls so much of our minds.

It is rare that you see an ensemble so in sync with each other and so devoted to the world they are inhabiting. The immersive nature of the piece is another layer that makes for Mendoza to be one of the most exhilarating and emotionally investing adaptations of Shakespeare. The actors interact with the audience, delivering their speeches to them or asking for help. Whilst not on stage they sit with the audience, observing, listening, and ready to jump in at any moment.

Mendoza is a collective experience. As the actors pray to the daemons and join hands with the audience, one is reminded of how often do we simply strive for making the audiences feel something as opposed to feeling it with them. As the production finishes the director encourages us to stay and talk to the company. I really want to, the theatremaker in me has so many questions but right now I know that the best thing I can do is go home and digest. This is what real theatre does to you.

Mendoza runs through 28 October.

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