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Yours for the Asking

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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A depressed, badly paid journalist is trapped in a lift while interviewing a disheartened model for a women's magazine he despises. He growls at her from under an all-purpose table while she cavorts existentially to the strains of the "Elvira Madigan" Mozart piano concerto.

Not the most promising of scenarios for a good night out, you might think, but veteran Spanish playwright Ana Diosdado's 1973 play - which kicks off an appealing international season at the Orange Tree, with Jules Feiffer, an Ibsen rarity and Feydeau to follow - keeps you guessing and sends a poignant message from Franco's era.

It seems that the life of a minor celebrity, Mia Austen's doe-eyed perfume pusher Susi, whose semi-naked body adorns the posters round the theatre balcony, is a nightmare because of censorious neighbours. And Steven Elder's washed-up journo Juan is a different sort of victim.

The play, niftily directed by Sam Walters, is intriguingly structured, too: the encounter is contained in a sort of forward flashback as Juan hits his deadline, after a sleepless few days, with a sensational psychological ramble that upsets the apple cart and astounds his editors.

We see him at loggerheads with his wife (Rebecca Pownall), his photographer sidekick (James Joyce) and an all-purpose "Man in the Street" (David Antrobus). This last figure also becomes the advertising agent who snares Susi as she dances provocatively in a downtown bar.

Diosdado's point is that Juan and Susi are equally trapped in the separate lifts of their lives, though Patricia W O'Connor's translation is careful not to make it too mawkishly. The acting, especially Elder's, has a nice wry tone to it, so that even the thudding observation that "this country needs a transformation from top to bottom" doesn’t sound too contrived.

Even more chilling is the assertion that this country labels its suicides "accidents". But the play doesn’t offer any hints as to why, in a liberated post-Franco political environment, its economy is in an even bigger mess than ours. Perhaps their super-models are happier, though I doubt if their journalists are.


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