Fringe Online 2021
Directed by Francesca Murray-Fuentes for JST’s Footprints Festival. Designed by Louie Whitmore. Lighting by Johanna Town’s simple. Camera work from several angles (Director Mark Swadel, Operator Balazs Weidner), including seventy-five degrees overhead, are deftly sequenced. To June 26th . Filmed and may be later available as stream.
A tribute to invisible people – and there’s a lot packed into those words here. Jimena Larraguivel and Alvaro Flores – who also plays a guitar and sings – star in this pocket epic, as it were.
British-Chilean Writer/director Francesca Murray-Fuentes’ Love in the Time of Corona packs a world into 66 minutes. Like the Garcia Marquez original, this is both Latin-American, though the characters live in London, and inflected with the original’s magic realism.
Compactly designed by Louie Whitmore with a few cleaning utensils, and a striking ward-curtain, the ever-shifting lighting by Johanna Town’s a sequence of rich contrasts evoking memories, interiors, revelations.
Though it’s London, there’s a soundscape of birds that might be tropical; they’re there for a liminal reason. Larraguivel’s narrator, a cleaner comments on the world around her, the affable bus drivers, locked behind glass, threatening drunks. A world falling apart. She’s continually checking her phone – for her father who always rings, we later learn. She’s travelling to hospital where she works. Everyone’s attitude to hospital changes, even the bus driver’s: a climate of fear.
Still as cleaner she’s done with a theatre in 35 minutes. Unnoticed and invisible: ‘a scientist of bacteria a philosopher of compacts, each athletic stroke…. I dance a dance of hygiene, sing a song of many sprays… I am powerful…. The difference. I am paid £8.10 an hour.’
Twelve minutes in, sneaking for a quick smoke she encounters a young man, looking for a rubber glove. He offers to help. ‘Why do I always attract the weirdoes?’ our narrator asks. We’re used to the refrain by now. He waxes eloquent on his hard work on the dementia world – ‘some of the greatest wisdom I’ve ever heard comes from the dementia ward…’They form a quirky alliance, he helping her with cleaning.
Bored? ‘Never To be in an aftermath is a unique experience… you have no idea what is going on. The room is empty but the emotions are still in there. You are given clues to what has happened but you join up the dots. As in cleaning… an exostat of the room… and I decide to get what happened.’ We’re treated to narratives. Fantasias, detritus, the overwhelming number of black umbrellas left behind. And physical demonstrations of cleaning prowess to the plucking of guitar.
He tells of a woman who yanks out her own tooth and planting it in the sand, cursing a young man not to find love till he’s as old as her. And shedding a tooth at nearly 51, he does. And now that new woman visits him here. The cleaner and dementia visitor swap stories.
She ‘ran out from one love to fall into another one here. But I burnt out more fiercely, because I had less support.’ They swap the wisdom of love and caring, medical teams taking on the suffering of those they treat. Only ‘tiny and ceaseless expressions of love between strangers’ seems possible. We’re treated to stories from him and her.
There’s a special reason he’s here, and there’s a reveal a little halfway through. And even then a twist is offered. Call it love.
And this last third raises the play to something heartrending and special. Even if the first reveal emerges only before a gentle cascade of stories leading to the next, perhaps a little too distended. There is one precedent for this play, with a different outcome, screened from the Hampstead a year ago. To name it is a giveaway but you might recognize the parallel when you see this.
Ultimately, it’s a heartwarming play, a slant to something unique in British theatre. And paradoxically the finest drama I’ve seen to emerge here from the pandemic, not least because it returns us to those invisible immigrant workers who’ve worked so ceaselessly and often pay so much.