Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Theatre review: Skin in Flames

Iconic images of conflict are a recurring subject of interest for playwrights: Both Chimerica and The Witness were built around the idea of the relationship between the subject and the person behind the camera, and so is Spanish writer Guillem Clua's Skin in Flames. The UK premiere at the Park is in an English translation by D J Sanders, but the cast of Sîlvia Ayguadé & Franko Figueiredo's production remains mostly Spanish. Two parallel storylines play out at the same time in identical rooms of a "luxury" hotel in an unnamed Third World country. Twenty years ago the country was war-torn, when war photographer Salomon (Almiro Andrade) took a picture of a seven-year-old girl being blown through the air by a bomb blast. It got the credit for drawing the world's attention to the conflict, and a fragile peace was reached. A rather dubious brand of democracy is now in place.

As a publicity stunt to assure the world that everything's moved on, the government have invited Salomon back to be presented with a made-up award for contribution to the arts. But first, he has to be interviewed by Hanna (Bea Segura,) who has a personal motive for meeting him.

Meanwhile Dr Brown (David Lee-Jones,) a UN diplomat who's helped arrange Salomon's award ceremony, is in a hotel room with young mother Ida (Laya Martí.) He will make sure her seriously ill daughter gets the medical treatment she needs, in return for increasingly kinky sexual favours from Ida.

It's revealed early on that nobody knows what happened to the girl in the photo, so it's obvious that she'll turn out to be one of the women in the hotel rooms. But Clua does a good job of double-bluffing around which of them it actually is, and the cast play the scenes with the understated weariness of film noir.

The real drawback to the play is that, despite its short running time, the confrontation between Hanna and Salomon is too wordy, their conversation going round in circles. In fact Segura and Andrade play it too cool, even once a gun gets drawn, which means the pace and urgency of the situation are never quite what they should be. There's a lot of interesting ideas in Skin in Flames, but it doesn't quite achieve the thriller-like tension it's clearly aiming for.

Skin in Flames by Guillem Clua in a version by D J Sanders is booking until the 6th of June at Park Theatre 90.

Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes straight through.

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