Miss Magarida’s Way is a text I had not come across before, and I should make a point of thanking 5goTheatreCo for bringing it to my attention. It’s a charged and fundamentally satirical piece by the Brazillian playwright Roberto Athayde, and it suits the small-scale realm of the Canal Café Theatre excellently. Its writing style boasts aspects similar to that of Pinter, Darke and Bond, though it admittedly seems a little overly reliant on sexual gags when there often appears to be room for more creative takes. That said, it is, of course, not Athayde’s writing alone that I’m reviewing, but this particular realisation of it, too.
The play is, in essence, some nightmarish attempt at a secondary school lesson, delivered through a dualized realisation of the ‘teacher’, Miss Margarida, depicted by Hanna Luna and Leena Makoff. Both performers are incredibly commanding, and the disembodiment of the educator’s role is wonderfully played out through their intense dictation. This is a real strength of the piece overall: the allegorical assertion that whatever the teacher says is fact, and nothing else, regardless of any evidence or sense that suggests otherwise. The complex (and often chaotic) speeches are beautifully communicated, and much of the actor’s movements are quite detailed. The minimal design elements work well in this intimate setting, though the over-reliance on red lighting states for moments of distortion seems a bit clichéd. The addition of a (understandably quite scared) student at the side of the stage is a fantastic touch, and stage manager Hugo Linton gives a great muted performance here, with lovely moments of silent comedy in their Gromit-esque expressions. The fact that the play’s structure is so inherently surreal makes this character’s rooted presence even funnier and more relatable – another great dramaturgical move is the suggestion that all of us in the audience are students, too (we’re even provided with worksheets).
‘You must obey. You must be silent’, dictates Margarida, and this seems a good summary of the overarching message of the piece. It is, indeed, a piece of ‘musts’ and not ‘shoulds’; an absolutist manifesto for control and submission. When at its best, it aptly comments on education and human nature with a delightfully dark sense of fun.
There’s some great ideas within the direction, but, at times, whilst layered with promise, they are loose in their execution. A wonderful skit highlighting the dangers of drugs has an incredibly promising start, with the student brandishing a comically huge joint, dancing to a loud musical underscore. This was, in my opinion, one of the funniest images of the whole evening, but then the moment ceased to go anywhere else. The dancing continued for around some twenty seconds more, and that was it; the start to something great faded. This is a running issue with the piece’s realisation.
There are uncomfortable moments. Despite the content warnings in the programme (which I very much appreciated), I struggle to see the need to deliver lines which contain thoroughly outdated and offensive homophobic language, or indeed, perhaps more importantly, their relevance to the here and now (the text is indeed billed as being ‘extremely relevant today’ in the company’s marketing). Sure, it’s clear that these words are being satirised, but their presence creates a certain cold aura that is hard to get on side with. There is a moment of slightly uncomfortable audience interaction, too, that involves physical touching and could go down badly with the ‘wrong’ participant – I somewhat hope that a plant was used for this.
I left The Canal Café quite content, but a bit perplexed. On the one hand, the promise of an interesting realisation of an older playscript had been greatly fulfilled, but I struggle to agree that Athayde’s text is as aligned to the here and now as the company suggests. It’s worth the evening, as a great introduction to this playwright’s work, and, too, that of the brilliant actors and creatives. Otherwise, though, due to the source material itself and, at times, certain creative choices, the experience feels a little misfired. That said, Miss Margarida’s Way still makes for a charming, humorous and thought-provoking evening at the theatre, and I’d thoroughly recommend supporting this company in their future work.
Miss Margarida’s Way ran from 24th-28th May at The Canal Café Theatre. More info on 5GoTheatreCo can be found here.