Tangled Thread Theatre are fast becoming a leading light in Off West End theatre. Not only through their critically acclaimed productions (last year Only Forever received rave reviews) but because of their dedication to showcasing new talent and providing them with an opportunity to build careers in what can be a precarious industry.
With their production of Tallulah Brown’s new play ‘After The Heat We Battle For The Heart‘, it seems like their vision and show are very much in alignment. It tells the story of Conchita, a female Peruvian bullfighter, and recently unemployed Ruth. From the outset it is clear that these two women have a connection; throughout the course of the play this is carefully unravelled, exposing their link beyond the overarching themes of the piece. It is a study on female empowerment, charting Conchita’s fight against the laws of Franco’s Spain, and Ruth’s struggle to define herself. Why should a woman have to become less feminine to take her place alongside men? And why is there a perceived need to conform to age-old rules & ideals? In pursuing her vocation, Conchita challenges the world around her to catch up. A theme that, sadly, seems all too familiar almost 70 years on.
Allusions to dance are made in the script, which are artfully reflected in Ita O’Brien’s choreography. It is skilfully intertwined into Conchita’s every move as she prepares to face the bull – and provides an opportunity for some comedy as Ruth’s boyfriend Sam bumbles his way through a beginners’ salsa class.
The stage is set up in traverse, and with minimal props. This allows for clever use of the back wall onto which black & white clips from the bullrings are projected, adding an extra dimension. It is unlikely that many people in the audience will have experienced a bullfight before, so this is helpful to provide some context for the uninitiated.
The show is ultimately about Ruth & Conchita, but it is fascinating to see the supporting roles of the men in their lives. Josh Taylor plays Sam as your typical bloke’s bloke – he’s understanding of Ruth’s lack of a focus, but also unwilling to step too far outside of his own routine to help her. By contrast, Ruy (Fed Zanni) is wholeheartedly behind Conchita’s dreams, as her trainer – though turns out to be slightly less obstinate than his pupil.
On the surface Ruth is quite ‘normal’, but once you hear her start to talk of something that she’s passionate about it’s clear that she is not all she seems. Jennie Eggleton portrays this wonderfully – and provides much of the dark comedy through her remarks, or even the slightest of actions. A particular standout is the scene recounting the decision-making behind her purchase of a flamenco dress.
Paula Rodriguez is mesmerising. From the arch in her back to the steely glint in her eye, she captures Conchita’s essence perfectly: determined, skilful, stubborn… And feminine. Her final act of defiance against the Spanish bullfighting laws made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up – hers is a truly commanding performance, equal to Conchita herself.
My verdict? The true story of a new feminist icon – undoubtedly the ultimate case of a woman in a man’s world, and a must-see production.