Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Forty years ago, a military coup in Chile toppled the democratically elected government. In the mayhem that followed, over 3,000 people ‘disappeared’. Fermin Cabal’s powerful play through the story of one woman gives voice and respect to the disappeared.
On September 11th 1973 Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government was toppled in a military coup. In the ensuing Pinochet dictatorship, thousands were tortured or killed, and over 3,000 ‘disappeared’. In the year of the coup’s 40th anniversary, Tejas Verde uses multiples voices to look back and give voice to one of the disappeared.
Formerly a seaside resort for the rich, under Pinochet Tejas Verde became a notorious torture camp where interrogations where carried out in the music room. Tejas Verde tells the story of Colorina, a young woman who disappeared one night in Santiago.
Colorina means golfinch, and gradually through the accounts of those who surround her, the disappeared Colorina emerges from the shadows and is given wings to fly. We hear from her friend, from a female gravedigger, a doctor, a Spanish lawyer and a Pinochet defender. Finally after we’ve heard from them, Colorina gives her own account of her torture, raw, brutal and difficult to listen to.
The play by Fermin Cabal and translated by Robert Shaw, is originally for several characters. Here Madeline Potter has to carry the monologues of all seven women. For the most part, this works and gives a sense of how we all carry the potential to take on any of these parts: betrayer and betrayed, collaborator and hero. We make choices dependent on personal circumstances which may not be understandable to others. Cabal’s play deals sensitively with the frailty of humanity, showing understanding for those who were forced into betraying others. Colorina’s informers describes her son’s bones being cracked by her torturers – impossible to forget, impossible not to understand.
It’s a wonderful play, poetic and prosaic by turn. It reminds us of the systematic brutality of the military regime, the helplessness of those caught up in it and the complicity of Western regimes. There are recurring poetic motifs: the bells of St Stephens, the gold songbird, alongside raw descriptions of torture. Colorina is only one of many who disappeared in this period; Cabal’s play remembers and gives them a voice.
Madeline Potter’s performance is powerful and deeply felt. However, there are times when differentiation of characters is not fully realised. Generally moving from one character to another is managed by light projections or taking off a jacket or retying it. Sometimes this is not enough and the acting doesn’t always follow the clothes change, leading to confusion as to which character we’re listening to and consequently where the story is. There are also times when Potter stumbles over her lines; in such a long, multi-charactered role this isn’t surprising and should tighten up over the run.
The set is simple, a backdrop with a cemetery with goldfinches hovering above it projected onto a white screen, Potter at centre stage, with a table in front of her with a jug of water and a glass. Potter’s performance is the central facet of this play and the set is adequate and effective. However, like many fringe shows, Tejas Verde does suffer a little from its venue: the long horizontal stage with so little depth offers little room for any movement.
Overall, this is a powerful play with a strong central performance from Madeline Potter. Tejas Verde gives testimony to those who disappeared forty years ago, and ensures we will never forget.