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Children Of Fate
CLF Art Cafe, London SE15
Marta lies motionless with Emilio, looking on as the audience files into the theatre space, setting a tone of desperation that runs throughout Juan Radrigan's play. We soon learn that Emilio rescued her from a canal.
Clad in rags, the two are initially distant and their stunted conversation is a barrier to connecting with the action.
But Marta's upbeat love of life and basic humanity shines through, drawing us and Emilio in.
Set in a Chile ravaged by the Chicago Boys and the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, Children Of Fate (Hechos Consumados) goes on to explore life on the margins. Marta (Sian Reese-Williams of Emmerdale renown) and Emilio (Dan MacLane) bear the brunt of society's ills - homelessness, poverty, unemployment and the scourge of fascism.
First performed in Chile in 1981, some of the political references were muted to escape the censor's wrath but the characters nonetheless rail against wage cuts, private property, faceless bosses and God, leaving little doubt as to where Radrigan's sympathies lie.
Similarly, Margaret Thatcher's figure looms large on the production's publicity, making the links between the fascist coup of 1973 and the economic destruction wrought by the Tories on Britain explicit.
Radrigan, the son of an itinerant labourer, never received any formal education, having to work as a textile worker to help support his family from an early age.
Thus the dialogue is rooted firmly in working-class vernacular, something translator and director Robert Shaw has been careful to maintain in the English version.
Tellingly, and no doubt based on Radrigan's observation of real life, Emilio bonds with Miguel, the security guard sent to evict the pair from the land they're squatting on.
Miguel exposes the role collaboration plays in keeping the working class down. "He pays my wages," he repeatedly shouts as he naively defends a system which has made his wife ill with an industrial disease and which makes him accept massive exploitation so that he can keep his job.
While the staging is superb, sightlines for some are obscured by pillars. Yet that in no way detracts from this excellent production exposing the appalling consequences of free-market capitalism.
Runs to November 24, box office: (020) 7732-5275
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