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March 2005
La Chunga
Peruvian Women
Peruvian Women

La Chunga by Mario Vargas Llosa

The Burton Taylor

9:30 performance



A Woman In Mind

The Burton Taylor
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By Hazel Tyldesley

La Chunga is a dark, smoky affair which tackles adult themes of desire, fantasy, gender roles and greed. Set in a seedy Peruvian bar, it introduces the 'inconquistables' (the 'undefeatables'), a group of foul-mouthed men who revel in their debauchery, and La Chunga, the reticent landlady who suffers their jibes.

The action centres around the night Josefino, the brashest of the inconquistables, offers to make a trade with La Chunga. If she will give him gambling money, he will loan her his latest beautiful conquest, Meche, to whom La Chunga is evidently attracted. The deal is struck, but the next day Meche has disappeared and La Chunga is keeping characteristically quiet.

In the absence of any juicy details about what happened between the two women, the inconquistables let their imagination run wild. As they remain centre stage gambling and drinking, La Chunga and Meche act out the men's fantasies about what might have occurred that night. In this way the audience gains an insight into the alcohol-fuelled interior worlds of these macho characters, which are sordid but alive with passion and even at times sensitivity.

La Chunga was written by the controversial, and critically acclaimed Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, and is certainly an interesting choice by director Andrea Ferran. The cast and crew ought to be commended for their gusty attempt to portray the desperate lack of equality and opportunity endemic amongst the poor of Latin America, which contrasts poignantly with the privilege enjoyed by their Oxford audiences.

However, one suspects they might have bitten off more than they can chew. Whilst Christina Paul as La Chunga creates a dark, simmering air of mystery, Aaron Costa-Ganis captures the repulsive egoism of Josefino and Elizabeth Kiernan is a suitably naïve Meche, there is a distinct lack of chemistry between the cast. In a play which bubbles with sexual tension this is a serious flaw.

The cigarette smoke which drifts over the heads of the audience convincingly recreates the atmosphere of the vice-ridden bar, and the lighting is used effectively: the proud Josefino is illuminated with a harsh white spotlight whilst La Chunga lurks in the dark corners of the stage.

However, attempts at authenticity are undermined by some quite frankly awful Latin American accents and a cast which rather unfortunately looks (and speaks) more like British students than the toughened underclass of Peru.

Despite these practical problems, La Chunga remains a thought-provoking and challenging hour of theatre. It leaves the audience uncomfortable, disgusted even, and unsure of whether it is the characters who are contemptible or, as La Chunga claims, 'it is life that is the monster'.

The views expressed in these comments are those of the contributor's and not the BBC.

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