Splendour (Esplendor) – Abi Morgan’s play of Ice and Fireworks

Esplendor (Splendour) by Abi Morgan, directed by Carme Portaceli. Photo: Albert Armengol

Four women gather in a luxurious residence in an unknown state in civil war. It’s the home of Micheleine and her absent husband, ‘an important man’, whom Katheryn, a foreign photojournalist, has come to shoot. They wait with Katheryn’s young guide and translator Gilma, a hungry woman with greasy fingers, deep pockets and shoes that mud the carpet.
A vase has smashed and Gilma is busy sweeping it up, but the sign that something is really amiss is the bedraggled entrance of Genevieve, Micheleine’s best friend of 25 years, coming in from the cold by the back route, her hair soaking wet.

Fragile States
The 2000 play Splendour by the British playwright Abi Morgan is a stunner, in all senses of the word. Meandering dialogue procrastinates through a non-chronological structure that, like a siege, loops around the action, reflecting the critical state of civil war that closes in.
By it’s very intention to distract, it’s not an easy play to follow, but this Catalan adaptation Esplendor at the Teatre Romea in Barcelona under the direction of Carme Portaceli, helps with its poignant scene-setting that jars the pristine and the poetic with the blunt and the brutal.
Dark, rough walls surround a tilted stage lit up like a snow globe. The women await their dictator around a smooth white piano, laden with bottles of vodka and shiny personalised glasses, bright oranges and blood red vases. Decadence drips from this apparent haven – which has already been breached, although no one not least Micheleine wants to admit it.
Micheleine (played by Míriam Iscla) does most of the talking in the play, which ‘progresses’ in a clatter of trivialities through which truths shoot home. Immaculately dressed in a fitted pink suit and zebra fur shoes, she titters as she totters back and forth, her glass of chilli vodka – red hot yet ice cold – needs continually topping up. Her false laughter fails to blot out the sounds; among them, the urgent ringing of one of three telephones.

Critical Oblivion
The ‘ice’ she requires for self-preservation is evident too in Gilma (Laura Aubert), a mercenary with mixed loyalties: a name from ‘the North’ and a boyfriend from ‘the South’, she plays both sides and pockets what she can, kids’ DVDs, a couple of glasses…
Katheryn (Gabriela Flores) is no less an opportunist, viewing the others as the objective details in a potential photo, she conceals a bleak life behind a frigid professionalism. Mistrustful of Gilma’s vague interpretations, she wants to be where the action is on the Southside of the city.
But it becomes clear that the action is here: Genevieve (Lluïsa Castell) has cracked long ago after her ‘involuntary’ betrayal led to her family abandoning her. She seeks numbness by lying in the snow yet only ends up saturated. And soon enough not even Micheleine can ignore the view from the mansion, the ‘fireworks’ from the Southside, where the city is burning.

Esplendor (Splendour) by Abi Morgan, directed by Carme Portaceli
Teatre Romea @ Grec Festival – Barcelona
Until July 17, 2016 – Touring in 2017
The play is in Catalan
Photo: © Albert Almengol