REVIEW: ‘Tieta, The Trial’ – StoneCrabs Theatre Company

I was, like many of the audience I suspect, not sure what to expect from this show, based on the promotion which described it simply as a play with live music and dance –it was all that and much, much more!

Entering the auditorium, the audience is aware of a beautiful young woman alone on the stage, apparently providing introductory background music on a piano accordion. When she begins to address the audience, we decide she is the narrator, as well as a talented singer and dancer, as evidenced by her opening performance.

What I was not prepared for was the level of talent and versatility which enabled actress Inês Sampaio to portray each one of  the characters in the complex story, act as narrator and perform all the music herself, keeping the audience spellbound and mesmerised throughout.

The tale itself, of a young Brazilian, born Antonio, whose realisation that inside his male body lives a female, is heart-rending yet not original in itself. Rejected by his family, brutally treated by the culture in which he lives, Antonio is driven to leave. In London she discovers her true self and, reinvented as Tieta, she corresponds with her family and, as her fortunes rise, sends them money.

Through versatile acting, utilising her mobile face, body postures and a single prop – a fan, which variously becomes a walking stick, a cross, a cigar and indeed a fan – the single performer introduces us to Tieta’s father and sister; her friend and confidante, and the local priest and mayor, all of whom have an opinion on and an interest in Tieta – or at least in the money she now represents.

When Tieta returns to Brazil however, she sets a challenge to the village people: she will give them the money they ask for, providing she receives the justice she deserves for the treatment she suffered in her early life there.

This challenge is opened to the audience, and on the basis of their response three possible endings can be performed. An ingenious twist, which left me wanting to know the other endings.

The real magic of this show however, lies in the perfectly portrayed characters, aided by subtle lighting changes and punctuated by musical interludes performed by Inês layering her own voice and using it as a backing track, all right there on the stage in front of us,  using minimal instrumental support.

Whilst the central challenge provoked plenty of thought-provoking debate afterwards, I was also left with a sense of admiration for the writer, director…but mainly for the skill of Inês herself.  I understand this is the first of a series of performances, the rest on the mainland. I just wish I could see them all – and witness those alternative endings!

(Performed at Quay Arts, 20 June 2018)

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