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Posted by : RodDungate on Mar 04, 2017 - 10:31 AM London
by Juan Mayorga
translated by David Johnston.
4 Stars ****

The Cervantes Theatre, Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR to 18 March 2017.

Spanish language performances Mon – Wed 7.30pm
English language performances Thur – Sat 7.30pm.
Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2 hrs One interval.

TICKETS: 020 3633 4406.
Review: William Russell 2 March

A splendid play for today

Note: Harriet, a tortoise Darwin brought back from the Galapagos in 1836, escaped from his garden and set out on a journey throughout Europe which was to last for some 175 years.

During it she did what animals do – she evolved, turning into a woman with a carapace on her back. Like Woody Allen’s Zelig Harriet just happened to be there when great events occurred. Juan Mayorga’s play written in 2008 is provocative and very funny.

It also is blessed with a marvellous performance from Gilly Daniels as Harriet, a scrunched up figure who looks at the world with impish eyes and takes no prisoners. This is in the English version, the one I saw. The policy at the Cervantes Theatre is to stage Spanish plays in Spanish with one cast, then in English with another.

In Spanish it would have been all Greek to me. However, Harriet’s adventures are worth hearing about. She has read a book by a present day historian which is full of errors and arrives one day seeking to correct him.

He realises, after initial scepticism, that she is a source to treasure – and exploit. But she also falls into the hands of a doctor who in turn realises she is a research project of great value to exploit, while the historian’s wife realises that people will pay good money just to meet Harriet and to blazes with research and medical science. Think King Kong, think exploitation of peoples by imperial powers, and so on. The play stylishly directed by Paula Paz works splendidly and the English cast do it full justice, although the evening does belong to Ms Daniels giving what is one of the best performances on the fringe in ages. Will Harriet survive these predators? Will they win? Of course she does, dealing with them in spectacular fashion – they not only have their cake but get to eat it. But whether she ever achieves her wish to return to her island is another matter.

Mayorga was inspired by a photograph he saw in a Barcelona paper of one of Darwin’s turtles who, not liking the climate in England, had ended up in Sydney zoo. It set him thinking about all that had happened in her lifetime. Watch Harriet recalling Hitler at a Nuremberg rally and how in the audience she finds herself carried away by the rhetoric of the little man she despises and think of those Trump supporters believing another man’s falsehoods. Although the play has been performed all over the world this is the first time here to see it – a chance that should not be missed. We get lots of plays by dead European dramatists revived, few by those writing today about today and while Darwin’s Tortoise is a story about the past Harriet’s past is relevant to today.

Harriet: Gilly Daniels.
Professor: Philip Nightingale.
Beti: Becky Black.
Doctor: Patrick Mc Hugh.

Spanish Cast
Harriet: Gladys Ibarra.
Professor: Alvaro Ramos.
Beti: Lara Grube.
Doctor: Jaime Menendez

Director: Paula Paz
Composer: Yaiza Varona.
Set & Costume Designer: Malena Arcucci.
Lighting Designer: Patricia Polo (Blue Mission)
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