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CULTURE

The Spanish theater company stealing the show in Shakespeare territory

A stone’s throw from The Globe, The Cervantes Theatre is packing audiences in each night

Blood Wedding, one of Federico García Lorca’s best-known works, has just returned to London, a global center for the dramatic arts, but where the work of Spanish playwrights barely registers. What makes this particular production unusual is not just that the work is performed in both English and Spanish, but that it is taking place in London’s first playhouse entirely devoted to Hispanic theater.

The cast of 'Blood Wedding' at The Cervantes Theatre in London.
The cast of 'Blood Wedding' at The Cervantes Theatre in London.

With the premiere of Blood Wedding on November 15, the Cervantes Theatre has staked out a claim in the land of Shakespeare.

The inauguration of the new venue, a stone’s throw from the Globe Theater, in Southward, also represents a multicultural challenge to the spirit of Brexit.

The challenge now is to strike a balance between offering quality art and keeping the theater financially sustainable

“Of course it hurt us, but we were not worried [about the fate of the Cervantes Theater] because since then, we have felt even more support from the English,” says actor and co-director Jorge de Juan about the June referendum that will result in Britain leaving the European Union.

The theater is the brainchild of De Juan and Paula Paz, a former dancer and co-director of the brand new playhouse. The idea began taking shape three years ago when De Juan returned to London, where he had lived before moving to Spain.

It was then that he saw a niche in a market that attracts millions of spectators to the box office each year, yet is largely unfamiliar with the Spanish repertory, with the exception of García Lorca’s work.

The initiative began with a cycle of dramatized readings of excerpts by Spanish writers (Jardiel Poncela, José Ramón Fernández, Calderón, Juan Mayorga...), embellished with stage props, wardrobe and sound effects to make the audience forget that the actors were reading their lines.

The Cervantes Theatre is located in the same district as the National Theatre.
The Cervantes Theatre is located in the same district as the National Theatre.

The success of those performances led the organizers to seek out a venue of their own: a theater with a seating capacity for 90 people, located close to The Old Vic, the National Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe.

While the program is made up mainly of English-language productions, it is the works performed in Spanish that have proved most popular. 

“I thought it would take us a while to consolidate the Spanish-language sessions, especially because there are no subtitles, which don’t work well in a small theater,” says De Juan. “But it turns out the English want to hear the text in the original Spanish.”

Audiences are typically made up of Spaniards and Latin Americans, two of the largest foreign communities in London, as well as Britons with ties to Spain, “and schools, above all.”

Spanish is the second-most-studied foreign language in British schools, and the only one that is experiencing a spike in demand compared to a decline in students of French and German.

After Blood Wedding, which will run through December 17, the theater will offer a combination of classic and modern works by Spanish and Latin American authors.

Although the project has received some support from Spanish cultural institutions, De Juan underscores the “abysmal” difference between Spain and Britain when it comes to state aid in promoting cultural activities.

Since Brexit, we have felt even more support from the English

Director Jorge de Juan

The challenge now is to strike a balance between offering quality art and keeping the theater financially sustainable.

A year from now, theater managers will begin talks with authorities in the nearby Elephant & Castle,  now a major hub for the Latin American community in London, in a bid to become part of a great cultural center projected there.

Before that, the Cervantes Theatre will face another challenge: going on tour with an English-Spanish repertoire in Brexit territory. It will be a good way to gauge whether cultural nationalism beats out British people’s love of theater – in this case, theater without borders.

English version by Susana Urra.

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