JUANA IN A MILLION
by VickyAraico Casas and Nir Paldi.
Southwark Playhouse (The Little) 77-85 Newington Causeway SR1 6BD To 15 June 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETS: 030 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 June.
Powerful voice for the powerless.
Newly opened at its third location in the borough, between signs for Autocar and Lucas motor-engine parts, Southwark Playhouse is powerfully fuelled by this one-hour, one-woman show, co-written by its performer and director. Which means it was probably written for her; if not, it might well have been.
Vicky Araico Casus is a forceful presence to take us through the story of young Mexican woman Juana who runs from her country’s violence after political thugs invade a night-spot and leave her boyfriend dead. She comes to London, only to find herself exploited and, without work permit and with a National Insurance number she’s faked, unable to complain.
It’s her own ‘community’ in the capital that does the exploiting, men with sexual suggestions and gropings in the restaurant kitchen where she works, women by cheating her of wages.
Seen first with her back to the audience, Casus presents both an assertive bunch of black hair and a vulnerable figure in a white dress. Her non-stop helter-skelter through Juana’s life depicts Juana as a young girl listening wide-eyed to her mother’s story of Mexico’s repression by Spanish conquistadores, the older girl horrified when a night-out goes horrifically wrong and the young woman lying to foreign officialdom then working conscientiously, full of bright, naive optimism, or dismayed at how others treat her.
Casus’ vocal characterisation is strong; even better is the physicality she displays, especially in work-routines, as repetitive patterns speed and merge into a near-abstract choreography with an elegance and energy that never removes itself from the sense of hard effort for low pay.
For the title is ambiguous. Juana may be just one out of a million would-be illegal immigrants seeking security in “Londres”, the ones taking ‘British jobs’ and depressing pay, while being themselves exploited. Yet she’s also an exceptional person, too good, possibly, to be entirely true in a performance that’s certainly outstanding. And, in Nir Paldi’s production, considerably enhanced by musician Adam Pleeth’s rhythmic soft percussion (feeding into dialogue rhythms at time) and gentle guitar or trumpet playing, which intensifies atmosphere without intruding on the story’s forward movement.
Performer: Vicky Araico Casas.
Musician: Adam Pleeth.
Director: Nir Paldi.
Lighting: Peter Harrison.
Composer: Adam Pleeth.
Costume: Kate Rigby.