A Fight Against… (or ‘Una Lucha Contra…’) is a disarming call to arms. Here translated into English by William Gregory, Pablo Manzi’s off-kilter, enthralling and destabilizing five-scene play takes an unfinished proposition and lets it blister. The title functions as a fill-in-the-blank with the ellipsis destabilizing an initially strong stance, and each one of the cutting, snapshot-like scenes are designed to disrupt any confidence with which the first three words might be uttered.
Pablo Manzi paints in twisted colours, his brush strokes moving sharply, clinically and unpredictably through the Americas — from a municipal office in 1880’s Mexico to outside a Peruvian club in 2017. Each of his characters are described as being ‘restrained’, emphasizing the chillingly cool atmosphere in this odyssey. First, Carla, a lecturer in Concepción, Chile stoically recounts to her partner a violent encounter she had with a student. Jimena Larraguivel as Carla is captivating as she brusquely regales to Joseph Balderrama’s Alejandro how, during a presentation, a student attacked her and pulled her jaw apart. Manzi’s violent imagery recurs throughout, but is handled with a deft hand that analyzes how violence, loneliness, banality, and community are interlinked.
There’s a particular attention to community, emphasized by Sam Pritchard’s multi-casting decision. In what is perhaps A Fight Against…’s weakest scene, three nationalist men from the US are at a loss after their white supremacist organization has succeeded in driving out the non-white population in their town. Here the performances stumble slightly, but Balderrama shines as Bob, who after a long-winded, nostalgic and racist monologue looks to his compatriots and suspiciously asks: ‘Who’s the real enemy?’
Alternatively, in a more ingenious scene, mother Irene (Larraguivel) in Mexico 1880 is defending her son José’s (Sebastian Orozco) reputation as a public executioner after he fails to hang a boy properly. What’s striking about Manzi’s writing is the offbeat comedy that grounds these often bizarre encounters. José’s colleague Martín (Eduardo Arcelus) warns José of the impending entrance of ‘the free man’ who’ll end up destroying the custom of public executions. However, he then cautions: ‘I don’t want to seem like a prophet, because I do have very low self-esteem.’
Pritchard does well to link everything together with movement sequences performed by Pía Laborde-Noguez, which also aid in foregrounding the climactic final scene. Rosie Elnile’s design is smartly adaptable, and employs an upstage chalkboard to not only note the changing settings but to rightly emphasize the inherent presentational quality of the piece. Sure, some of the acting is uneven, but if anything, the main criticism here is a feeling that there is enough good material here to allow for more than a 75-minute show. Two Chilean guards, Daniela (Pepa Duarte) and Adrián (Sebastian Orozco), meet each other as they look out for Pervuians crossing the border. In this disquieting encounter, both Duarter and Orozco are at their best, and it feels like we leave these characters too soon.
Still, Manzi’s A Fight Against… artfully considers the ways in which creating communities can generate violence. Odd and unflinching, this is a scorching series of portraits built on questions of how we organize ourselves and who we choose as our enemies.
A Fight Against… is on at Royal Court until 22nd January 2022. More info and tickets here.