Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Theatre review: Eldorado

When Wogan ended in 1992, the BBC replaced it with the much-publicised soap Eldorado, set among British ex-pats in Spain. I don't remember much about it except there was a man's naked arse in the first episode, but despite that it became a famous flop. It was taken off-air a year later, ironically just as it was starting to find an audience. Still, it meant Jesse Birdsall was now available to make Bugs, another show considered a bit of a laughing stock, but which actually did quite well for the Beeb in international sales. None of this has anything to do with the play of the same name at the Arcola's main house. Did the soap have some Germans in it? This Eldorado is written by a German - Marius von Mayenburg, whose other plays include The Ugly One, The Stone and Fireface, all of which I've enjoyed.

What this actually is is a very abstract look at people profiting from wars in other countries. Anton (Michael Colgan) works at a company that sells land that's just been flattened in conflicts that are still ongoing. Or at least he used to - thinking he could do his boss' job better he forged his signature, was found out and sacked.

Anton leaves the house every day pretending to still have a job to his wife. Thekla (Amanda Hale) is a mediocre concert pianist who's given it up because she's just not good enough - and even her student Manuela (Eva Feiler) has left her for a different teacher. To keep them afloat as Thekla has just announced she's pregnant, Anton does one last deal, selling a large property to Thekla's rich mother Greta (Sian Thomas) and her very hot toyboy Oskar (Nicholas Bishop.)

This is Eldorado's UK premiere, and an odd play it is. In some ways what made it hard to get a handle on is how it's not quite as out-there as a lot of European theatre is. Simon Dormandy's production doesn't provide the food-fights and nudity of many European productions (the latter a crying shame in Bishop's case,) offering instead something resembling naturalism but which - as the dialogue turns into musings on koi carp and Anton's dead boss (Mark Tandy) starts talking to him from a cupboard - isn't actually anything of the sort.

I've always found something to tune in to in the previous von Mayendburg plays I've seen, but there's something a bit too nebulous about Eldorado despite an excellent cast giving predictably great performances. The point about people profiting from war then having this fall down around them is lost in flights of fancy, while the family drama that makes up most of the action doesn't provide enough of an alternative focus.

Bunny and Fizz, they were Eldorado characters, too.

Eldorado by Marius von Mayenburg in a version by Maja Zade is booking until the 3rd of May at Arcola Studio 1.

Running time: 2 hours including interval.

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