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Cuzco review at Theatre503, London – ‘cerebral, but unengaging’

Dilek Rose and Gareth Jones in Cuzco at Theatre 503. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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A trip to South America that is supposed to heal a couple’s failing relationship instead exposes its fault-lines in Spanish playwright Victor Sanchez Rodriguez’s taut three-act play.

A relatively rare staging of work in translation, Cuzco is a cerebral affair. Its dense and poetic language mines the construction of identity and belonging, and the subconscious colonial thinking that lies behind much contemporary tourism.

Increasingly vicious recriminations fly, and cracks in the pair’s relationship turn to crevasses, as they recount the separate interactions they have had with people – other tourists and locals – outside their increasingly stifling four walls.

While the two-hander follows them along the Inca trail, its action is contained within a series of bland, beige hotel rooms that, as designed by Stephanie Williams, believably emphasise the monoculture of international travel.

This claustrophobic mood is enhanced by Max Pappenheim’s striking sound design that mixes jaunty traditional music and eerie tones to create a creeping sense of dread.

On stage, however, the performances feel incongruous with the dialogue and mood. He (Gareth Kieran-Jones) and She (Dilek Rose) deliver the words quickly and lightly with a sense of calm – and even charm – that fails to convince that their relationship has reached a dark abyss.

This isn’t helped by the static stage direction, which leaves the actors rooted to the spot and gesticulating for emphasis during monologues that barely seem to register with the other partner. As a result, Cuzco can’t muster a level of emotional engagement to sustain interest in its ideas.

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Emotionally underpowered production of a cerebral but undramatic play