Reviews Performance Published 20 October 2014

La Araucana

Barbican Pit ⋄ 14th- 16th October 2014

A soldier’s story.

Rebecca Morris

Tryo Teatro Banda,  one of Chile’s leading theatre companies, have created a satirical piece based on the epic poem by Don Alonso de Ercilla, a 16thcentury Spanish soldier of King Philip II’s court, which they are presenting in London as part of this year’s CASA Latin American Theatre Festival.

Ecrilla’s poem tells the tale of his part in the Spanish conquest of Chile and of the indigenous Araucanians who fought against their subjugation. One of the company’s aims is to tell ‘often ignored indigenous narratives’, and alongside this production, they are also performing their politico-historical satire Parlamento! at Rich Mix. The production looks back to a time before the regime of Pinochet and in doing so Tryo Teatro Banda are fulfilling an important role in Chile’s cultural landscape.

Writer and director Francisco Sanchez’s production has a classical narrative structure. Together with its commedia dell’arte element and the playing of traditional live instruments on stage, this makes for a rather conventional theatrical experience. The story itself contains echoes of  Restoration drama and Daniela Ropert’s maiden (the only woman on stage) becomes a variety of different female characters throughout the piece as well as playing the cello; she is by turns virgin and minx, passed from man to man, from actor to actor. While Ropert is a charismatic and strong presence, it is hard not to let her playing of these stock female roles bleed into reality. This is a tale about dominant colonial aggression, ownership and subjugation; it is not intended as a feminist piece, but even so it is hard not to feel slightly alienated by these gender normative stage relationships.

That said the four performers had a real familial chemistry. This they conveyed despite their relentless dance with the props and set. This was overwhelming at times, this constant interaction, the grappling with clunky objects and pantomime hats. Yet still there is a warmth and ferocity as well as a real sense of grandiosity, just like the poem on which this is based: epic by name and nature.

The musicianship is incredible and the piece as a whole walks the line between traditional yarn and an important piece of Chile’s national heritage.  This is an interesting and bold idea – the oppressed (as it were) re-enacting the story of their ancestor’s subjugation through the lens of their historical oppressor. Yet perhaps if it had been framed more within the spectrum of the contemporary, it would have been easier to access these grand political and historical narratives. Personally I would have liked to see how it might have related to the ‘postcolonial’ world as it stands today. But for an audience interested in this particular aspect of Chilean history, this had the power of story-telling at its most basic and best and can be enjoyed by families and physical theatre enthusiasts alike.


Rebecca Morris is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

La Araucana Show Info

Produced by Tryo Teatro Banda

Directed by Francisco Sanchez

Written by Francisco Sánchez




Enter your email address below to get an occasional email with Exeunt updates and featured articles.