Written and set in 1969 Sao Paulo, Jose Vincente's The Assault, the first of this Brazilian double-bill, is a two-hander meditating on issues of class divide, repression and office-induced madness, now receiving a long-overdue UK premiere.
Young yet moustachioed bank worker Victor (Steven Farah) is keenly aware of his status as one of Brazil's 'haves', and manifests his guilt in the form of a creepy attempted seduction of his office cleaner Hugo (Jade Willis).
Deeply neurotic, Victor yearns for emotional intimacy (“not one of my companions exist anymore”), a yearning which is compounded by his homosexuality. Hugo is the perfect foil, a calm, mild-mannered working man with enough intelligence to recognise his suitor's condition - clearly one he's seen many times before - and how he might profit from both his white guilt and base urges.
Vincente's characterisation is not always consistent (Hugo's moral compass is sat on metal), and in Victor Esses' production the attempt to mix elements of Portuguese with the English translation acts as an unnecessary distraction; but in an age of recession the play is well-chosen, and one can hardly resist the employment of cliché by saying The Assault was way ahead of its time.
It plays in a double-bill with Rodrigo de Roure's The Last Days of Gilda, which received an outing at the Arcola back in January.
It's set in the kitchen of a woman who casts a spell over the local Rio menfolk with her charms both culinary and carnal; she's the bane of the local Favela wives. Performed by Gaël Le Cornec, this monologue is neatly directed (again by Esses) with tea-towels transforming into chickens and a washing line proving a neat screen.
Although overlong, it's an absorbing piece, performed with great energy and seductiveness by Le Cornec, which highlights the plight of big personalities trapped in lowly lives, and echoes The Assault's themes regarding the loneliness of wealthy men.