In 1962, Fernando Arrabal co-founded the Panic Movement, a collective of artists whose aim was to create theatre that was surreal and shocking. Although it was written a decade earlier, these are two adjectives that very accurately sum up Arrabal’s The Tricycle, which has been revived in a new production translated and directed by Jesús Chavero of Bright South Theatre. In the play, teenagers Apal, Climando and Mita resort to murder to get their hands on some money so they can pay for a tricycle they’ve hired. Though we don’t see any actual violence (there’s plenty of blood and gore, but poetically, this is portrayed by red petals scattered across the stage), the play’s powerful shock value lies in the casual attitude of the characters towards their intended crime, and the ease with which they later justify their actions.
However, it’s not quite as black and white as it sounds. The characters’ genuine amazement when they realise they’re in trouble confirms our belief that they’re not bad people, they just don’t understand that they’ve done anything wrong. Prior to their fateful encounter with the Man With The Banknotes, Climando (Andrew Gichigi) is a cheeky chappy who spends most of his time clowning around, flirting with Mita (Lakshmi Khabrani), having nonsensical arguments with The Old Man (Simon Lammers), and trying to get Apal (Arif Alfaraz) to stay awake more than a couple of minutes at a time. It’s all very childlike and innocent, albeit with a slightly sinister twist (at one point, Climando and Mita cheerfully encourage each other to commit suicide), and in a strange way it’s easy to brush off the bit where the friends murder someone as an unfortunate blip – not forgivable by any means, but perhaps almost understandable.
This is probably because in the killers’ eyes their crime was simply something that needed to be done, and not an act of malice. They’re poor and nobody wants to help them, so the only logical response for them is to help themselves. The decision to relocate the play to London gives its themes of poverty and social rejection more immediacy, and asks the audience to consider how much we really blame these outcasts for what they’ve done, and how much responsibility should fall on a society that put them in such a desperate position in the first place.
An example of Spanish Absurdist theatre, The Tricycle is undoubtedly an odd little play, but it’s also strangely endearing, thanks to the obvious passion of the company, and the cast’s infectious and energetic performances (except Apal, obviously, who spends most of his time asleep on a bench). The production features a surprising amount of laughter, a lot of fast-moving word play – so much so that it becomes hard to keep up with the increasingly heated arguments – and some impressive, and unexpected, acrobatics. This light-hearted treatment of the play’s dark, challenging themes makes for an intriguing blend; an acquired taste, perhaps, but one I wouldn’t mind getting used to.
Last chance to see The Tricycle at the Blue Elephant Theatre tomorrow, 25th November.