The Feminist Theatre of Paloma Pedrero - guest feature by Rhiannon Kelly

“Many of you ask me sometimes, and wonder: Are you a feminist? Do you consider your theatre to be feminist? Well, tell them that if feminism is an ideology, no, no I’m not. I am a congenital feminist, from birth”
- Paloma Pedrero, 1997 talk

Last year, theatre director Natalie Katsou and I were asked to put on a double bill of contemporary Spanish plays at the Arcola Theatre to compliment their Spanish Golden Age season. Whilst the theatrical giants of the Golden Age are often staged in the rest of Europe, Modern Spanish writing is not as well known on this side of the Mediterranean. One of the plays we chose was Wolf Kisses by Paloma Pedrero, and we are currently working on a transfer to the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington 22-27 July.

Paloma Pedrero was a pretty radical theatre maker in the 1980s, and is now the president of Caidos del Cielo, a non-profit organisation she founded which uses theatre as a tool to help people at risk of social exclusion. Although Pedrero has won many prizes in Spain for her work, her plays have been translated into several languages and staged across the world; I was surprised that more people in the UK had not heard of her.

Born in Madrid in 1957, Pedrero lived through the tail end of Franco’s fascist dictatorship. Her career developed alongside Spain’s democratic period, and much of her work explores socio-political themes. In 1987 the Association of Spanish Women Playwrights was set up in order to encourage “feminine drama activity” and, through theatre, to “improve the situation of women in society”. Pedrero’s theatre engages with such concerns, as she interrogates contemporary anxieties about gender and sexuality.

Besos de Lobos (or Wolf Kisses, written in 1986, world premiere in 1991) deals with a young woman’s relationship to four men: her father Agustin, her homosexual friend Luciano, her suitor Camilo, and her French lover Raúl. Returning from convent school, Ana comes home to the rural village of Jara, a town that time seems to have bypassed. She waits for her lover to return, and in doing so defies her family expectations, unearths some hidden secrets and creates tension amongst her friends and family.

The person Ana is closest to is Luciano, nicknamed “the retard” by the other villagers. These two characters scorn marriage and are both marginalised in their community, summed up by Ana: “here being different is the same as being mad or retarded”. Ana explains to Luciano that normative conventions are “invented by people who want to feel big, important, powerful” – a statement that speaks volumes about her, and by extension Pedrero’s, uneasy relationship with authority.

Pedrero uses humorous, colloquial dialogue but the play also has dark, violent undertones and explores taboo subjects. It is hinted that Ana was pregnant, which is why she had to leave school. She flinches at any mention of physical contact, and we are encouraged to question what her relationship with Raúl was like – clearly there is some trauma involved. Women’s reproductive rights have been, and continue to be, a long battle in Spain, so this play about a woman’s struggle is politically prescient.

Ana sinks deeper into her self-created illusions, and Pedrero highlights the loneliness and frustration of all the characters that inhabit the town. None of the men believe that Raúl will return, or even existed in the first place, and the play analyses the ways in which female expression is scrutinised and (dis)believed. Even Ana’s suitor Camilo is not strong enough to set aside the routine of his dusty town for her, and Ana ends up imprisoned in her own subjectivity.

Pedrero’s criticisms about the way theatre is used and funded by those in power means that her work has been rejected many times by public theatres such as Madrid’s Centro Dramático Nacional, and her early critics subdued the radical and feminist undercurrents that run through her plays. However, it is this emphasis that has brought her work international renown, and makes her a key player in post-Franco women’s theatre that deserves more exposure in the UK.

(c) Rhiannon Kelly 2014
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The UK Premiere of Pedrero’s Wolf Kisses, translated by Roxana Silbert, is at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington 22-27 July. For more information, to watch the trailer and book tickets, visit the ORL website: http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/wolf-kisses.htm

With thanks for sponsoring Female Arts crowdfunder: http://www.sponsume.com/project/female-arts-magazine-femaleartscom

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