In her play written in 1973, two years before the collapse of the Franco Regime, Diosdado’s condemnation of the Spanish dictatorship is painfully clear. Yours for the Asking follows a week in the life of national superstar model Susi Ramón, the new face of seductive and stylish perfume ‘She’, who is left suffocating – both figuratively and literally – in her Madrid apartment.
Susi is being destroyed by the company that once made her, a company that in so many ways represents the larger, all-encompassing and all-controlling ‘system’. A system which Franco constructed, strengthened and maintained until his death in 1975. Ramón’s life has been shattered by events which unfolded concerning a connection between the perfume which bears her face on its posters, advertisements and labels and the accidental death of three young children, which leads to her own downfall and spiral into a deep psychological depression. Diosdado is quick to condemn the gullible society against whom Ramón struggles, yet as the play continues and Ramón’s fragility combines with that of disillusioned journalist Juan’s, Diosdado reveals that societal gullibility disguises terror: fear of the regime, of its motives and of anyone who attempts to disturb or even question the status quo.
Longing to become an investigative journalist and end his demoralising days at Woman Talk Magazine, Juan (Steven Elder) desires nothing more than an easy interview with model Susi (Mia Austen), designed to entertain the bored housewives the magazine caters for. However, the lift in her apartment block suddenly breaks, with Juan trapped inside. Entrapment is a familiar feeling for Susi and as she comforts him, it becomes obvious that the interview and eventual article can give Juan his perfect writing opportunity, at a price.
The translated title of Ana Diosdado’s most celebrated play leaves room for interpretation; it remains deliberately vague and curiously suggestive. Whether or not Yours for the Asking refers to Juan’s total access in his journalistic questioning to every element of Susi, simply due to her media-owned and controlled persona, or takes a tenderer attitude towards their relationship and the questions –and answers – about society that haunt them both, the play displays the easy availability of not only materialism, glib advertising or consumerist press but of the opinion of the ‘Man in the Street’ and how very often the two are related.
It is the interaction with the set that displays the disconnected, uncontrollable nature of the media-driven regime. Juan’s typewriter appears to almost type itself; the sounds of the keys ring out from the stage yet Juan never physically presses a key. The typewriter itself is also an interesting creation: it is a perplex box within which has been placed images of a typewriter on each of its four sides. Fundamentally the box represents a typewriter, yet stylistically, the box is a fake. Such additions by designer Katy Mills bring the themes of deception to light in a direct way. As an audience, we expect to use our imagination; we imagine a Madrid apartment and that we are, in fact, in Spain. However, the typewriter has a physical existence – and a real presence – it challenges how and what the audience expect to see and how actors interact with props on-set. The box clearly poses as a typewriter yet the audience never question its validity as one. This directly relates to Diosdado’s recurrent theme of gullibility, denial or refusal to recognise distinct and obvious falsities because it suits our purpose better if we ignore them completely.
Such elements thread themselves intricately throughout the play and the complexities in the plot are well executed, with the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond being a perfect venue. Being set in a permanent round, the audience almost encroach upon the play and become ‘the four walls’ to which Juan refers, which are the only witnesses to the emotional turmoil which often reach ferocious climaxes. Yours for the Asking offers a dystopic glance into the lives of the Spanish under Franco with a harsh and unrelenting honesty.
Yours for the Asking is playing at Orange Tree Theatre until 6 October. For more information and tickets please see the Orange Tree Theatre website.