Roberto Zucco – natural or nurtured killer? That question, among others, is the sort of thing this production of Bernard-Marie Koltѐs’ final play shall attempt to answer. Not only is it sure to answer this, but I expect it will encourage its audience to pose many questions as well with its boldly original style, courtesy of the expertise of director Mathilde Lόpez. It opens tonight (Wed 9th July) at the Stiwdio venue of Chapter Arts Centre, but the company were generous enough to let me to sit and scribble in the dark while they had their tech rehearsal. And I can tell you: even the rehearsals are as erratic and exhilarating as the production itself.
Firstly, a word about the play. Written in 1988 by absurdist Bernard-Marie Koltѐs and translated by Martin Crimp, it appears to follow the life and murders of the real life Italian serial killer of the same name, charting his familial and romantic life along the way. Alas, it’s not as factual as you may think. While the storyline is generally accurate, it is the primitive dialogue and ferocious characters that are the most striking.
Director Mathilde Lόpez says, ‘I love the language. It switches so quickly from something almost Shakespearean to an American gangster movie.’
And she’s succeeded in injecting that almost manic conversion from comic hysteria to tenderness through several mediums that you’ll have to see for yourself. A lot of the questions I had prepared were somewhat irrelevant when I saw how the play worked. I realise that it’s not as much about Zucco himself, rather how he’s driven to it.
Discussing it with Lόpez, however, gave me a huge insight into what’s below the surface of Zucco. ‘He is almost like Jesus, in a way,’ she says. ‘The play is a kind of crucifixion. He himself is not an evil character; he is only made to do these things because people want him to. You know, a girl asks him to kidnap her and he does,’ muses Lόpez, intermittently popping a Skittle into her mouth.
She adds, ‘Zucco is also the only character with a name, which is interesting. The others are just called Mother, Sister, Girl, and so on.’
I notice too that Zucco, played expertly with disconcerted shyness by Adam Redmore, seems the most timid of all the characters. It, therefore, is a play about how perhaps we are not born evil but made that way.
The context of it being written in the 80s adds yet another layer for analysis. Since the playwright was a homosexual, the hostility he faced is reflected in his work. ‘Koltѐs wrote this when he was dying of AIDS,’ she continues. ‘So there’s a lot about secretion and filth and the sort of dirty desires of humans, which is how it was seen then. And yet, the actual subject of AIDS isn’t mentioned once.’
Watching Lόpez work is a privilege in itself. She changes seats regularly to ensure everyone has a good seat, occasionally adjusting the positioning of the actors accordingly. Sporadically and without warning, she barks mid-scene instructions or adjustments to actors – ‘Louder’; ‘Too far’; ‘Cry more.’ And the actors obey her every word and carry on, simply because, very often, she’s right. Lόpez, like any artist, is obsessively meticulous in all aspects of the performance – the speed of a crossfade, the tone of a voice, even the direction of a bucket of blood. All chaos is organised. Such carnage requires scrupulous direction.
Every actor seems an artist in their own right too and perhaps that is the reason for Roberto Zucco feeling so dazzlingly volatile. Adam Redmore and his supporting cast (made up of Bethan Mai, Joanna Simpkins and John Norton) are equally brilliant showing no sign of exhaustion from these rehearsals, abandoning all the usual barriers of age, class and gender. They are empty vessels for the quirks of minor characters to fill. I was still unsure of what was to come even after watching scenes replayed over and over again so that a light or a noise was in the right place at the right time. It’s a real feat of the imagination. People, like Zucco, should kill for a ticket to this. (Don’t actually do that.) I know I am dying to see Thursday’s finished product.
Roberto Zucco is at Chapter Stiwdio, Cardiff from Wed 9th to Sat 19th July 2014.