Casa Festival review at Southwark Playhouse, London – ‘a varied and vivacious festival’
Now in its 10th year, London’s varied and vivacious Casa festival has grown into an impressive and important platform for both international and UK-based Latin American artists. With shows drawing inspiration from literature, lived experience, and recent history, the eclectic line up now extends over eight weeks of intimate productions, workshops, and free readings.
In a chilling performance, Donizeti Mazonas plays ostentatious murderer Osmo (★★★★), dreamily philosophising as he soaks in a bathtub. Naked in a glass tank for the duration, Mazonas slips between hypnotic charisma and drawling menace, an unsettling blend of Christopher Lee at his most charming, and the Faun from Pan’s Labyrinth.
Adapted from Hilda Hilst’s short story, the text is luminous, rambling, and packed with sensual poetry. Director Susan Damasceno accelerates the languid pace with striking images – Mazonas undergoes physical contortions, strikes classical art poses, and submerges himself for painfully long periods.
Meanwhile, Erica Knapp remains seated throughout the production, spot-lit but silent, a stand-in for all the women in Osmo’s life. Symbolic of the killer’s grossly distorted worldview, she exists only to reflect his ego.
Playing out like a heartfelt public service announcement, Stardust (★★★) explores the impact of the cocaine trade, following the drug’s journey from Colombian farms to the streets of London.
A work in progress – albeit an inventive and accomplished one – from Southwark Playhouse associate artist Miguel Hernando Torres Umba, the show is ambitious in scope. With warm humour and self-effacing charm, he combines mythology, history, and heartrending anecdotes in a passionate, fractured, rush.
At times, he interacts with projected animations, charmingly illustrated in monochrome by Diana Garcia. A peppy soundtrack from Luis Fernando Bonilla Julio jumbles together traditional music, Latin guitar, and bursts of chirpy pop, adding to the episodic feel.
Equally fragmented, but taking a more playful approach, I Occur Here (★★★★) responds to the quirks and complications of emigration with humour and optimism.
Co-directors Mariana Aristizabal Pardo and Malena Arcucci weave physicality and fleeting imagery into a flurry of overlapping, multilingual voices. Taken together, they sketch out the thoughts of four travellers leaving their homes and beginning new lives.
The ensemble throw themselves vigorously into each sequence, running and writhing about the space. The difficulties of adapting to a new environment are explored through games and comic skits, where they agonise over packing and slay literal dragons. Despite this light tone, an undercurrent of thoughtfulness is always evident.
The show takes its title from a poem by Mario Benedetti, in which he describes a home where every door leads to the outside world. Both daunting and inspiring, it perfectly captures the feel of a festival which foregrounds often underrepresented voices, while remaining uplifting, exciting, and refreshingly hopeful.
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