sat 13/07/2024

Skin in Flames, Park Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Skin in Flames, Park Theatre

Skin in Flames, Park Theatre

Catalan drama examines exploitation in the aftermath of Western intervention

Hanna (Bea Segura) is bent on revenge, but is she the victim she claims to be?Andrew H Williams

The premise might seem familiar: a famous photograph, taken by a Western journalist in fraught military and political circumstances, has repercussions many years later. The subject of the picture, a representative of an entirely different culture from that of the photographer, is anonymous, but the image is familiar all over the world. Attempting to bridge the gulf between subject and journalist leads only to further bitter misunderstanding.

Two years ago Lucy Kirkwood's award-winning Chimerica took the photograph of the "tank man" of Tiananmen Square, the brave, lone protester of the 1989 uprising, as the starting point for an examination of the relationship between the two major superpowers. It was a political thriller and a love story – witty, complex and intellectually savvy. Skin in Flames is a much slighter, less ambitious piece, but it deals with some of the same themes.

This time the photograph of a girl flying through the air after a bomb explosion is imaginary, although it suggests the image of the small naked girl fleeing a napalm attack in Vietnam. In Guillem Clua's play the photographer, Frederick Salomon (Almiro Andrade), is invited back to the unnamed country he reported on 20 years ago to accept a prestigious peace award. He is to be interviewed by a local journalist, Hanna (Bea Segura), who eventually claims to be the child in the picture which has made Frederick rich and famous. The country, supposedly democratised after Western intervention, is corrupt, poor and caught up in endless civil strife. Recent forays in the Middle East are clearly in the author's mind, but language and racially diverse casting ensure vagueness of place and time.

Laya Martí as Ida and David Lee Jones as Dr BrownThe set is a grungy hotel room in which the dialogue (including threats involving a pistol) between Salomon and Hanna is interleaved with encounters between a United Nations official, one of Salomon's hosts, and Ida (Laya Martí), a woman forced to meet his sexual requirements in return for medicine for her sick child. This staging has significant disadvantages. The discussion between Salomon and Hanna needs to be heard; a blow job being administered in the background is an unsubtle and distracting underlining of the theme of exploitation: Doctor Brown (David Lee-Jones, pictured right with Martí) climaxes just as Hanna reaches the moment of the explosion in her story. Later, as tensions rise, the dialogue in the scenes is interwoven which slows down what should be a nerve-jangling, possibly life-threatening, interchange between Salomon and Hanna.

StoneCrabs Theatre Company and Catalan theatre company Bots & Barrals present this UK premiere by Clua, a Barcelona playwright with a growing reputation. Award-winning Skin in Flames, here translated by D J Sanders and directed by Silvia Ayguadé and Franco Figueiredo, has been seen in several European countries, Latin America and the United States. The four actors bring commitment and energy to their parts and Martí and Segura are especially fervent in their expressions of different kinds of victimisation and survival strategies. The audience sit on three sides of Valerie Kaneko-Lucas's simple bed-dominated set.

There are interesting ideas here: how far can the plight of an individual stand for a culture? What exactly is liberation and who is served by an imposed, non-functioning democracy? Where does exploitation begin and end? Is it a lesson swiftly learned? But the overall of 70 minutes of Skin in Flames is of portentousness rather than illuminating analysis.

A blow job being administered in the background is an unsubtle and distracting underlining of the theme of exploitation


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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