Review: Cuzco, Theatre503

Will Rathbone

Cuzco is a rare theatrical import from Spain which sees an unnamed couple encounter difficulties in their relationship and their surroundings as they backpack through Peru on the trip of a lifetime.

Víctor Sánchez Rodríguez, in a translation by William Gregory, plots the couple’s unravelling in a production that simmers with something more unsettling than a mere lover’s tiff. Whispers of residual colonial guilt, and Max Pappenheim’s creepy sound design, create a tense, stifling atmosphere throughout.
The couple are at odds right from the off. While He wants to go out and explore, She is reluctant to leave the hostel. He is keen to travel and make friends with a couple he met in town, while She distrusts them. He buys into the tourist tales told by local traders but She doubts their legitimacy. The distance between them is at odds with the three claustrophobic rooms that house each act. Stephanie Williams’ set design reflects the uniformity of experience that can affect international travel.
Gareth Jones and Dilek Rose are an engaging couple, trying to re-connect whilst moving further apart than ever. The frustration is keenly felt, as each attempt to make peace leads to another argument. They both discover truths about themselves that cannot be reconciled. As He undergoes a sexual awakening that makes him long for more from life, She withdraws into herself as she struggles with her national identity and the transience of the backpacking dream. Their final argument unleashes hidden resentment in a wildly unrestrained pair of monologues.
Kate O’Connor’s direction keeps things swift and fluid, and the show lasts a taut 70-minutes, though there is an imbalance between cerebral notions of identity and the overarching passions of the relationship which prevents a true connection with the characters. It’s a slippery production to pin down, never quite allowing itself to surrender to the Kurtz-like wildness of the unknown; pushing its characters to the brink but leaving them teetering.
It’s great to see plays from Europe on our stages, and this is an atmospheric import that accurately explores the pressures of self-discovery.

Cuzco, Theatre503, 5 - 16 February

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