The Bureau of Surrealist Research are staging a play about the death of Lorca. Except that he’s not dead yet and in fact, no-one really knows what year it is in the first place. Not that they’ll let that stop them of course – logic and predictability are not a high priority for Surrealists, and the result for the assembled visiting delegates (or the audience in layman’s terms) is a frenetic yet heartfelt telling of an impressively multi-layered story.
Belt Up’s imaginative use of the Southwark Playhouse bar co-opts the audience into the fun from the very beginning, where they play games, write poems and create art before the slightly pompous but clearly well-meaning André Breton introduces them formally to René Magritte, Antonin Artaud, Louis Aragon, Luis Buñuel and Paul Éluard. As the audience follow the hopping Surrealists into a richly lit and disconcertingly hazy study, it is only a shame that the magic is broken for the few moments it takes a wildly out of place and thoroughly unsurreal plain-clothed usher to check their tickets.
When all are finally settled on mismatched furniture and cushions, the proper ‘play’ can commence. The two strands weave together beautifully with the Surrealists staging a reenactment of Lorca’s death as a tribute to him as both a man and a symbol, while Artaud’s evocative musical time machine transports everyone back through the history of the movement. Proceedings are constantly disrupted by the petulant childishness of Salvador Dali and the manipulation of his seductress muse Gala (who appears to have been uncannily reincarnated in Lucy Farrett); while Aragon’s explosive anger and fierce principles must constantly be calmed and Éluard’s heartbreak at Gala and Dali’s love affair comforted. Frequently these combustible personalities run the risk of permanently diverting the Surrealists from their course; however, the peaceable Magritte, played understatedly by Serena Manteghi, finally reminds them of their common cause in the quietly powerful retelling of Lorca’s final hours.
In this instant the real purpose of the evening is pulled sharply back into focus and once and for all Lorca is Dead becomes what it always purported to be – a humbling tale of a man who we’ve never actually seen and can never really know. Yet beyond this, while also allowing for endless intellectual witticisms and the odd fake moustache, the part played by the Surrealists turns a tribute to one man into a much more challenging exploration of a movement imploding under the weight of its egos and rivalries, self-expectation and ideological debates.
The ending is poignant for all concerned and a million miles away from the start of the night which it’s very likely you spent drawing blindfolded while someone held a gun to your head and yelled ‘spam’ in your ear. But that’s Belt Up for you – the thrill is never knowing quite what to expect next.