A Fight Against… (Una Lucha Contra…) review – a harrowing and humorous depiction of Latin America
The production runs at the Royal Court until 22 January 2022
A Fight Against… is the English debut of Chilean playwright Pablo Manzi and it does not disappoint. It is translated by William Gregory and directed by Sam Pritchard (both of whom worked on Guillermo Calderón's B at the Royal Court). The play takes us to various locations in Latin America: Peru, Chile, Mexico, and in each destination we hear of new horrors as the piece explores violence and what it takes to build a community.
Every element of this performance works together beautifully; the set is understated, but it becomes more and more layered as the play unfolds. A window gives us a view into a laundry room in one scene and a nightclub in another. It is also used as a visually arresting and shifting landscape as two guards (Pepa Duarte; Sebastian Orozco) wait on the Chilean border to prevent illegal immigrants crossing from Peru. The multi-purpose set (design by Rosie Elnile) provides us with a glimpse into the more intimate parts of the characters' lives, which works nicely because so much of the play seems to be about the intimacy of connection versus the cool distance of voyeurism or passive bystanders. There are finer design touches too, such as the folding of baby clothes in the opening scene to add further context to the relationship between one couple.
The stories of violence are harrowing: from the disturbing image of one character wanting to look inside another in order to see where the fight continues in Chile, to the blasé way public executions are discussed in Mexico. We consider whether manipulating empathy through public executions is just another way to instil fear and whether that works. Where then, audiences might think next, is the line between that and terrorism? The show is dark but appropriately so, especially when considering the socio-political backdrop of social uprising in Chile and the criminalisation of protests.
But alongside the harrowing stories is comedy – found in the fast-paced witty retorts between an earnest American nationalist named David (Eduardo Arcelus) and his intensely angry peer Bob (Joseph Balderrama), as well as Jimena Larraguivel's expertly judged deadpan delivery in various roles, name just a few moments. The humour in the show does not overpower the serious topics so we are never distracted from the garishly gruesome idea of death and violence.
Pritchard navigates the transitions well, with choreography performed by Pía Laborde-Noguez (movement direction by Fernando Munoz-Newsome) which teeters the line between dance and fighting: a new language which continues the extended metaphor of the play: dance or fight? Relationship and community or violence and retribution?
The play doesn't give a definitive answer about where we might find community but it does, perhaps, offer a glimmer of hope. The piece ends rather abruptly, presumably for audiences to think about their own relationship to empathy and community. However, the performances are excellent and the topics are important; I could have watched more.