Saturday, 1 June 2013

Theatre review: Juana in a Million

After a few months in limbo, Southwark Playhouse opens temporary premises in Elephant & Castle, but I can't check out their new main house just yet: Injury saw the entire run of the opening show cancelled, which I'm sure they're not viewing as a bad omen of any kind. I'm sure things'll go better for them when they stage a musical Titanic later this summer, what could possibly go wrong?

So my first visit takes me to the smaller studio they're calling The Little (the other one's The Large - perhaps when they return to London Bridge they can open The Cannon and The Ball?) for Vicky Araico Casas and Nir Paldi's tale of South American illegal immigrants finding a much more brutal life in London than they'd expected, Juana in a Million.

Tired of constantly feeling under threat and having to pay protection money to keep her restaurant open, and following the horrific murder of her boyfriend, Juana decides to leave Mexico for the UK under the guise of a holiday, and attempt to find work here. But the accommodation a friend has arranged for her involves time-sharing a bed in an overcrowded room, and she is repeatedly exploited in menial jobs that always seem to trick her out of her paycheck.

Araico Casas performs Juana's monologue (Paldi directs,) taking on all the other characters by using stylised gestures and stances to indicate who has now started speaking. Though Juana's story is unremittingly bleak, it's performed in a lively physical style that infuses moments of salsa dance into the storytelling. Onstage musician Adam Pleeth provides the musical backing as well as sound effects that bring the story to life and provide occasional comic moments that lighten the performance. It's a powerful and engagingly-performed experience, if not a pleasant one.

Juana in a Million by Vicky Araico Casas and Nir Paldi is booking until the 15th of June at Southwark Playhouse's Little Theatre (now at 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD)

Running time: 1 hour straight through.

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