‘Las heridas del viento’ is a tense and moving exploration of the devastating effect that unrequited love can have upon an individual. Juan (Kiti Mánver) and David (Dani Muriel) are strangers with little in common. The death of Rafael, David’s patriarchal and unsentimental father, brings the two men together and forces them to confront the reality of their relationship with him and the way it has shaped their identity. Photos © Noela Roibás
2015’s Spanish Theatre Festival opened with Juan Carlos Rubio’s Las heridas del viento at The Courtyard Theatre in Shoreditch. Rubio’s play has been immensely successful in Spain, winning accolades for its cast, script and direction alike.
‘Las heridas del viento‘ is a tense and moving exploration of the devastating effect that unrequited love can have upon an individual. Juan (Kiti Mánver) and David (Dani Muriel) are strangers with little in common. The death of Rafael, David’s patriarchal and unsentimental father, brings the two men together and forces them to confront the reality of their relationship with him and the way it has shaped their identity.
Mánver’s comic timing is flawless, the dry wit of Juan appears to come to her completely naturally and adds a darkly comic dimension to the play. I was so enthralled by her performance that I entirely forgot I was watching a woman play a man.
The play takes place in the immediate aftermath of Rafael’s death. David has been charged with organising his father’s possessions, a task we soon realise is completely redundant: Rafael is so obsessively organised that David even discovers an ordered catalogue of every stamp produced in Guinea between the years 1967-1998. David is, however, disturbed and intrigued in equal measure when he discovers a locked box within his father’s study. It soon becomes clear why Rafael was keen to hide the contents of the box away from the eyes of his family, for it contains a series of passionate letters declaring the unending adoration of a lover: Juan. David is forced to re-evaluate his relationship with the enigmatic and distant Rafael, tracking down Juan in an attempt to solve the many unanswered questions he now has about his father.
The powerful script is brought to life by the polished and imaginative direction of Rubio himself. The background scenery is minimal: a chair and four spotlights provide little distraction from the dialogue and actions of the two characters. Rubio’s fast-paced and thought-provoking writing renders elaborate staging and costumes superfluous, and the emotional tension consequently increases as the story grows progressively darker. This understated approach renders the director’s occasional exploitation of lighting and music doubly powerful. The second act, for example, opens with a loud Italian ballad booming over the stage as David reminisces about his father’s love of ‘boleros’. The passionate lyrics of the song ironically highlight Rafael’s inability to vocalise (perhaps, one wonders, to feel) any love or passion himself, whether it be as a lover or a father. Juan’s expansive proclamations of his desire are, however, no more effective, and the audience is led to ask whether love is something once can ever articulate or control.
Kiti Mánver and Daniel Muriel are exceptional (as attested to by the multiple awards Mánver has received for this role). The dynamic between the two characters is at once amusing and disturbing. Muriel achieves a balance of vulnerability and youthful stubbornness. He appears quick to judge his father yet we increasingly realise that he has spent his life craving Rafael’s approval. Those moments during which he reminisces about his relationship with his father are moving without ever becoming overly sentimental. We hear, for example, how his father comforted him as a child when he was terrified by the film Bambi or how David was punished as a child for eating a boxful of sweets. Muriel’s subtle performance renders David a very human character for whom the audience feels a great deal of sympathy.
Mánver’s performance is more unnerving, for she skilfully depicts Juan as damaged yet cruel, intelligent yet eccentric (if not, indeed, a little mad.) I left the play unsure how exactly to feel about Juan: his relationship with Rafael has tragically overshadowed his life yet he toys with David, who has, in many respects, suffered in the same way he has. Mánver’s comic timing is flawless, the dry wit of Juan appears to come to her completely naturally and adds a darkly comic dimension to the play. I was so enthralled by her performance that I entirely forgot I was watching a woman play a man.
‘Las heridas del viento‘ raises many questions for the viewer. It explores how far we can control our own lives: if we can’t choose how we feel, can we really choose how we act? Juan and David are shaped, in different ways, by their relationship with Rafael yet neither one feels that they fully knew him. We are left wondering how far we can ever truly know another person, or if perhaps we only ‘know’ the facade that they choose to present to the world. Indeed Juan seems to have renounced any attempt to understand the world: in a characteristically absurd yet insightful statement he advises David: “La vida es una perfecta ensaimada mallorquina. Cómetela, pero no pretendas comprenderla…” Rubio’s powerful and thought-provoking script is brought to life by two exceptional actors. This performance was memorable and utterly compelling: an outstanding way to open a festival celebrating the best of Spanish Theatre.