A SOLDIER IN EVERY SON: Luis Mario Moncada, Trans Gary Owen
RSC: The Swan
Runs: 3h, one interval, till 28 July
Review: Alexander Ray, 05 07 12
Fascinating glimpse into an unknown history; something to say for today.
There is something enormously fascinating about watching a play centred around a subject you know next to nothing about. But who would have guessed that Luis Mario Moncada’s RSC commission would attempt to paint as vast a tapestry as it does? It’s billed as ‘the rise of the Aztecs’ which is all well and good – we’ve heard of them, so we know (or think we know) what we’re getting into. But it turns out (as we learn from this play) that the Aztecs were a smallish and much oppressed race, caught between the warring big guys, the Acolhuas and the Tepanecas. Indeed the Aztecs had been banished to a small island in the middle of a lake, whereupon (superb engineers they must have been) they built floating roads and living areas.
Moncada attempts to encapsulate the development, not just of the Mexican nation, but also the development of the Mexican identity. He echoes what Shakespeare grapples with in the history plays, not just the history of the making of England (Britain), but also with the development of the British identity (English identity). Interestingly there’s another echo, too; just as many British people wouldn’t know the narrative Shakespeare encapsulates, I learn that most Mexicans wouldn’t know the one Moncada encapsulates.
Moncada adds another level of interest to this fascinating play; just as Brecht echoes Shakespeare in his American play, ARTURO UI, so Moncada echoes WS in A SOLDIER. And it’s great if you get the echoes, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t.
In A SOLDIER, the great themes of human development are explored. Leaders strive for peace but pursuit of (personal) honour seems to result constantly in war. What do we lose in merging our own national identity within a larger identity? What are the links between honour and revenge, and what is the human cost of pursuing them?
There’s a strong acting team, though one or two weak spots. Alex Waldmann is a magnetic Prince, later King, Ixtlixochitl – most disappointed when he gets killed off, but mighty pleased when he comes back. Susie Trayling brings welcome spark to the Princess, Tecpa, and John Stahl is worth every penny with his large performance of Great King of Azapoltzalco, Tezozomoc.
The whole takes a bit of getting into, but once warmed up is engrossing; interest begins to wane towards the end of the second half as clarity diminishes. Roxana Silbert’s direction is appropriately unfussy and brings tautness to a dangerously broadly painted canvas.
This isn’t a perfect play, but never mind; it’s bold and revelatory. And there’s a magical fascination in the repetition of the fascinating names and titles.
Neal Barry – Shaman/Muxe/Conspirator
Iain Batchelor – Yacanex
Simon Coombs – Zihuac
Brian Ferguson – Itzcoatl
David Fielder – Huexotla
Marco Antonio Garcia – Tacuba
Mariana Giménez – Malinali/Mayahuel
Mark Holgate – Maxtla
Héctor Holten – Tonahuac
Israel Islas – Quimalpopoca
Diego Jáuregui – Techotlala/Tlacalel
Mark Jax – Chalco
Joshua Jenkins – Tochitzin/Moctezuma
Natalie Klamar – Zilamiauh/Citlali
John Stahl – Tezozomoc
Susie Trayling – Tecpa/Macuetzin
Alex Waldmann – Ixtlixochitl/Nezahualcoyotl
Andrés Weiss – Tayatzin
Director – Roxana Silbert
Set Designer – Jorge Ballina
Costume Designer – Eloise Kazan
Lighting – Chahine Yavroyan
Music and Sound – Dave Price
Movement – Ann Yee
Fights – Terry King