“ It’s something that affects everyone: loss of memory, getting older . . . “ This is the phrase that best sums up this play which is being shown at the moment in London.
Interview: Javier Marcos
Photos: Pau Ros
They are uncomplicated, empathic and their conversation flows, talking enthusiastically about how things are going for them with this theatre production that they have put on in the UK.
They are Patricia Rodriguez (Gijón, 1976) and Mercé Ribot (Barcelona, 1983), two Spanish women settled in London now for some years, who have produced “You and Me”, as a comedy, with a rather bitter-sweet and moving tone.
Indeed, You and Me”, directed by Bryony Shanahan, pictures the relationship between two old women who have spent their whole lives together and who are watching how old age consumes them, while they keep up a surreal dialogue going back over their lives. It is the English version of “Tu i jo“ (by Roger Simeon), which Patricia played in some years ago at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival, and was also put on in New York.
Behind “You and Me”, there have been many people helping them. Most recently, Aitor Basauri, a Basque actor who works a lot in England, Spy Monkey, and Golocalise, without whom they would not have been able to premiere the play, since they were promoters of the first project. And the author Roger Siméon, who was willing to let them improvize with his script.
Both actresses – who also trained in theatrical promotion – are not unaffected by the crisis. In spite of raising the flag of their coutry outside its borders and promoting Spain, the subsidies and the cuts are beginning to affect them “although we do understand that the State only supports local productions at the present time”.
The work, produced by the company that both of them manage, “Little Soldier Productions”, will run from October 20-22 at the Greenwich Theatre in London, after starting a tour of different cities this month.
Patricia and Mercé will be coming back to play in the British Capital after their first time at the beginning of June.
How did “Little Soldier Productions” come about?
Patricia: The company began in 2010 as a base for the production of a monologue I was working on: “Solo para Paquita“, by Ernesto Caballero. In 2011 Mercé and I began a new project. We met in 2010 and we decided to form a team.
Why the name?
P: Someone suggested it, I don’t know who. But it is very appropriate because we are very much fighters, we are always working hard and you end up becoming a bit of a ‘Little Soldier’. It’s a kind of metaphor for an actor who fights to be able to produce his own work. It’s a kind of personal self-assertion, of our strength, and in an environment that could be hostile at first.
Talking of “You and Me”, what feelings do you hope to produce in people watching?
P: The work is a bitter-sweet comedy which portrays the relationship between two old ladies who have spent their whole lives together. In the narrative of the story – in the “Little Soldier Productions” version at least – we enjoy exploring a dichotomy, to investigate this aspect of being human, where in the saddest of situations, someone can die laughing. Because life is full of things that are both funny and tragic. We are trying to communicate that. And that people should laugh, be moved, and they won’t forget us.
What are you aiming at in your next productions?
Mercé: That a lot of people will come. The more the better; that they will get to know our work, and what Spain is like, the linguistic and cultural richness which exists. It is a show for all audiences, all ages, because it can be understood perfectly well by anyone. We are talking about something that affects everyone: loss of memory, getting old, something that touches all of us, whether we are English, Catalan, Asturian or New Yorkers.
And yourselves, are you a bit like the characters?
M: I sincerely hope not. (laughs)
Who inspired your interpretation of the characters?
P: For me, my grandfather. He is very grumpy and amusing at the same time. Things happen when you don’t know whether to send him out for a walk, or to fall down laughing.
M: I took the reference from my grandmother. My character is a bit more static, she suffers more from memory loss. My grandmother was like that. She used to ask you what the time was every ten minutes.
What can you tell us about the director?
M: Bryony Shanahan trained in the East 15 and Contemporary School. I met her there because I was studying at the same place. And were were looking for someone who could take a very active role, not just reading the script and directing the play.
We could tell you a lot of things, about where we came from, on the subject of immigration, and Bryony brought a lot of experience in working creatively in a group.
She was the right person to bring all these ideas to fruition, and shape them into a text. She is working with us as a freelance.
Is it difficult to perform in English?
P: We both have experience working in this language. Mercé trained here in a school with a good reputation, East 15. I trained in Paris, where the language used was English; and after that I performed my monologue of “Only for Paquita” in English and Spanish. In any case this work mixes English, Castellano and Catalan. That is one of the main attractions: what makes it different.
Why come to London?
P: Because it is the cradle of theatre, for the originality of the plays that they put on here, London, despite being a conservative city in some ways, recognizes originality and the ability to be creative. Many producers are actively looking for these talents – that is something we notice.
M: When you ssuggest a fresh, innovative project from a new company, all the theatres compete to put on the premiere. There is a theatre industry here. Things are easier here than in Spain.
How is the crisis affecting you?
P: There are less funds available. And for our work, although it is very Spanish and played by two Spanish actresses, and we are promoting the culture of our country outside its borders – it is still difficult for us to get access to certain grants. Because for the Spanish State, the priority now is to support productions at home.
Before, when I did “Only for Paquita“, I received some support from the cultural office of the Embassy almost immediately. This year they have told us it will be more difficult.
Talking about a play which deals with the theatre of the Absurd, is it rather reminiscent of Valle Inclán?
P: Not really. It is a lot like Ionesco, and Samuel Beckett. It touches many of the typical themes found in Beckett: the passage of time, the difficulty of communication, human individuality…
What distinguishes each of you from the other?
M: Patricia is a very versatile dramatic actress She is able to express emotions and make you laugh in a matter of seconds.
P: Mercé has a huge capacity for work, and enormous talent. She is very generous, disciplined and it is very easy to communicate with her on the stage. She forces me to be a better actress.
What will be your next stop after October 22nd at the Greenwich Theatre?
P: There is a lot of production work to do. We are going to Brighton in May.
M: We have another tour that we are sketching out for the spring of 2013, that will have its second run in October. And we will probably take this production to the New York festival, which we were invited to this year, but had to turn down for logistical reasons.
(Translated by Graham Douglas – Email: email@example.com)