Mysteries still abound about the death of Garcia Lorca, the Spanish playwright, theatre director and poet. Assassinated in 1936 at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, speculation continues as to the why and whereabouts of his death.
Was he killed for his political views – although he always claimed he was apolitical? (He had friends in both Republican and Nationalist camps). Was it for his avant garde views, not least about the crucial role of theatre in the lives of ordinary people? Or was it for his homosexuality vividly expressed in one of his last poems, Sonnets to his dark love?
From some of these mysteries, former Guardian and Evening Standard Drama Critic Nicholas de Jongh has returned to the scene of the crime to try to unravel further material surrounding the last years of Lorca’s life. Like his first play, the rather deliciously sardonic Plague Over England, de Jongh’s uses a central idea to also flesh out the surrounding culture, in this case, the distinctly unsavoury hidden political stance of the British towards the nascent Spanish Republic and its enemies, Franco, Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini.
De Jongh therefore has set himself quite a task and by far the most emotionally touching moments are of the relationship between Lorca and his last lover, the 19 year old architecture student (later critic) Juan Ramirez de Lucas, whose association with Lorca only recently came to light after Ramirez’s death in 2012 with the discovery of love letters and mementoes kept by him throughout his life.
De Jongh loves exposing establishment secrecy and embarrassments and has done so very successfully in two much admired non fictional works, English theatre censorship up to 1968, Politics, Pruderies and Perversion and homosexuality on the stage (Not in front of the audience).
Here, in what is part memory play, part political drama, he switches between time scales and the personal and the political. There is a tenderness in the scenes between Damien Hasson’s Lorca (despite his rather offputting northern Irish accent), the young Ramirez (Matthew Bentley) and his later self whom John Atterbury endows with appealing modesty and wisdom. De Jongh also makes some pungent political points.
It’s rather shocking, even now, to be reminded of Whitehall’s involvement in transporting Franco back to Spain and of our pre-war policy of appeasement towards the growing Fascist powers.
With clearly limited resources director Hamish MacDougall and lighting designer Zia Holly nonetheless create a sense both of dusty Spanish heat and diplomatic chill with a sand-filled stage, slanting side lighting and desks and chairs.
Two plays then jostling for our attention, not yet quite sufficiently homogenised but certainly spreading fresh light on two subjects where the secrecy that was surrounding them has been pierced to dramatic effect.
The Unquiet Grave of Garcia Lorca is at the Drayton Arms, London to Oct 25, 2014
© Carole Woddis; October 2014