As part of the ongoing World Shakespeare Festival 2012, the RSC has joined forces with the National Theatre of Mexico to tell the story of the rise of the Aztecs in thirty years of tribal warfare at the start of the 15th century.
Israel Islas (Quimalpopoca), Mariana Gimenez (Mayahuel) and Alex Waldmann (Ixtlixochitl) in A Soldier In Every Son-The Rise Of The Aztecs at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon Photo: Tristram Kenton
What sounds like a good idea - a sort of Wars of the Roses with lots of face paint, tattoos and cockatoo-feathered helmets - turns into a risible procession of showdowns between angry warriors and angrier queens whose names are a tongue-twisting challenge in themselves.
Originally announced as an Aztec Trilogy, Mexican writer Luis Mario Moncada’s drastically shortened play, translated by Welsh playwright Gary Owen (from a literal translation by Simon Scardifield), tells, in the first half, the tale of crown prince Nezahualcoyotl (Alex Waldmann) of the Acolhuas, dallying with a slave girl instead of making the right marriage with the Tepanecas.
The second half concentrates on the story of Itzcoatl (Brian Ferguson), son of an Aztec chief and another slave girl, and leads to the alliance of all the tribes around the Texcoco Lake, after various bloodbaths, a wedding ceremony and the ritual sacrifice of a young boy king.
Moctezuma, brother of Quimalpopoca, Mayahuel and Tlacaelel - who sound like a family of prescriptive drugs - turns up for a spot of revenge, but by then you’re past caring who slits whose throat or shouts once more to the four winds. And there is a lot of shouting, mostly in short four letter words and long place names.
Designer Jorge Ballina provides a sloping stage like a burnt popadom or parchment, a suitable cat-walk setting for Eloise Kazan’s costume parade if not exactly a mini Mexican Mahabharata.