The new success of Sergio Peris-Mencheta: fireworks and little substance

The weekend premiered in Madrid Sergio Peris-Mencheta's new show: Ladies Football Club. Eleven actresses on stage who, with skill, boundless energy and vocal capacity, won over the public with this story of some workers in an arms factory who, during the First World War, achieved popularity and liberation through soccer.

The night ended with the public standing, cheering the actresses and Peris-Mencheta himself. Large format, cast and production, great pull of public (the show has hung the "all sold" sign for the 15 performances in the capital) and an auditorium that, although it was not electric for more than two hours and a quarter duration of the show, he was absolutely delivered at the end of the show. What is called a theatrical success was experienced at the Teatros del Canal.

The stage director Peris-Mencheta thus achieves a round year. His previous production Una noche sin luna, a work written and performed by Juan Diego Botto, is the favorite for the Max Awards with four nominations, including direction. But all that glitters at Ladies Football Club is not gold. The work, sheltered in a solvent production and camouflaged in an innumerable succession of tricks and in a frenetic movement on stage that wants to pass for rhythm, hides numerous deficiencies.

The montage is based on the text written by the Florentine playwright Stefano Massini, Ladies Football Club, an author that Peris-Mencheta already used in his previous montage, Lehman Trilogy. Massini is today one of the leading authors in Europe. At the beginning of the century, Lucas Ronconi, one of the great Italian theater directors, welcomed him to the Piccolo Teatro di Milano, a theater to which he was linked until two years ago as theatrical consultant. Last year Piccolo staged, directed by Giorgio Sangati, this same play but with a big difference: the staging was based entirely on the text, a text that was pampered and said by one of the greats of Italian theater, Maria Paiato. Peris-Mencheta's proposal is the opposite and seeks spectacularity at all times in an accelerated musical structure where the texts are said by all the actresses in a meaningless speed competition, like a polyphonic choir that shoots out text.

The story that Massini brings us, through fiction documented in real events, is the story of the munitionettes, the women who during the First World War replaced the men in the armament factories. Some women who decided to start playing football in factory patios and managed to form teams and fill stadiums with more than 50,000 people. They became true heroines of an English people who, when the war ended, wanted to send them home again. Nothing would ever be the same, even if they were prohibited from playing on the professional fields of the English Football Association until 1971. In 1928, the vote would reach all women over 21 years of age.

Massini collects the stories of each of the players. From the rhythm and care with which Massini tells us the stories of these workers, the daughter of a religious, that of a football fan, that of a spinster, that of a convinced communist, etc., in Peris- Mencheta only caricature remains. None of the delicate Italian script. The text is abused in an unstoppable rhythm from the beginning, everything has to go fast, be dynamic, without pause. Massini's text is dynamic and fragmentary, but it has pauses, he rocks the reader, leading him to reflection and emotion with each character. Instead, on stage, he yells at himself and runs and, logically, he falls into the caricature accentuated by a direction of actresses who seek easy histrionics and composed based on clichés and easy gesticulation. This prevents us from appreciating the subtexts of Massini's work, the fine political reflection, the passage of time, the complicated situation of women and workers in a hierarchical, class-oriented and patriarchal society until death. In this Ladies Football Club everything becomes a broad brush, the joke is extolled, the reflection arising from the art of literary composition is erased, the management of the theatrical tempo, of silence, of the pause, of the nuance, of the look is erased.

Peris-Mencheta is a director famous for his staging and the rhythm of his works. And to this himself he seems to bet all the chips in this setup. On this occasion, despite the good musical production, the vocal endowment of the actresses, that rhythm is at the expense of everything, at the expense of the presentation of the characters, the ability of the public to breathe, of any distance necessary to be able to accompany what what happens on stage. The soccer scenes, spidical and with staging successes, arrive after more than an hour of work of non-stop running and moving from one side to another, and then it is decided to put more lights, more shouts, more hyperbole. The subject has no end throughout the work, it is intended that the spectator rides each proposed wave every five minutes, he is treated as someone avid for the consumption of strong sensations and thus outlines the relationship that is proposed to him, that of the continuous high . The matter reaches its zenith with a final musical number, composed of an ascending, vocal and light spiral, which a large part of the public applauded as the end of the work. What's up, it was the penultimate theatrical trick, the synthesis of how this director poses his relationship with the public.

Theme with political background, supposed class identity and supposed feminist cut that, in addition, is supported by eleven actresses where we find a good assortment of origins from theater, musicals, television or music. Names from the theater such as Silvia Abascal, Ana Rayo or Nur Levi, from musicals such as Andrea Guasch, from cinema and television such as Diana Palazón or Carla Hidalgo. Lighting by David Picazo, musical composition by Litus Ruiz and musical direction by Joan Miquel Pérez, and set design by Alessio Meloni; the production is top notch. And it also has the favor of a wide audience. It seems that there is nothing reprehensible and what there is is work, talent, nose and good work. It is not easy at all to make a production of this depth from a private initiative and Peris-Mencheta faces this adventure from his production company Barco Pirata, the association with Producciones Rokamboleskas and the co-production of Teatros del Canal. Nothing to blame. It is simply a matter of focusing one's eyes and placing oneself before the type of cultural product proposed. Peris-Mencheta chooses the topics well, she does it in a way that is not innocent, from a well-thinking left but with a commercial nose: first it was a Lorca, then the holy and perfidious market, and now worker feminism aligned with women's soccer. The formula is perfect, it is dressed in first class production and to sell. The counterpoint is what is left when you remove the wrapper.

At the conclusion of the premiere function, Peris-Mencheta himself came out to thank the public and his team for their effort. And, without being able to avoid it, he criticized the lack of support that his theater needs in Spain, pointing out, suggesting, that the support received by the public theater that was hosting and co-producing him was not enough. Comments of this type, complaints on networks and other media by this director denouncing the lack of support for this theater, are numerous and common. Which is lawful, possibly his theater gets many subsidies. The concept in this country of support for culture from public institutions, which takes profitability more into account than other parameters, supports him. The theater industry needs hits, paid tickets —the SGAE is dying for them—, both in movies and on stage. It is an eternal debate. And Peris-Mencheta, with this montage dressed in silk and with his continuous claims, opens it up and leads to reflection. At least there he gets it.

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