Arcola Theatre, London E8
Opened 9 January, 2009

What an eclectic start to the year: to follow Sylvia Plath and Mandy Patinkin with Greg Hicks in a capoeira-styled adaptation of one of the great Greek tragedies. This last pretty much covers the waterfront on its own, but the combination is not gratuitous. Hicks, always an actor of magnetic, wiry physicality, has long been fascinated with the Brazilian discipline which is part-dance, part-martial art, part-spiritual training. And Euripides’ treatment of Greek legend resonates well with the partly mythologised figure of Besouro (Manoel Henrique, 1897-1924).
As the god Dionysus offered his mostly female followers transcendence through chemical and dance-instilled intoxication, so here Besouro offers dignity through capoeira to oppressed Afro-Brazilians, and is thus a locus of resistance and a threat. As King Pentheus of Thebes is incited by Dionysus to attend a bacchic rite in disguise and is there torn to pieces, so here Gordilho (Hicks), the police chief of Salvador de Bahia, is persuaded by Besouro to pimp himself up and go to a roda (basically, a capoeira jam), from which he does not emerge alive. The correspondences in Frances Viner’s script go into more detail, but crucially it is not necessary to know the Greek original in order to appreciate In Blood; the parallels simply offer added value.
Noah Birksted-Breen’s production looks at first as if it may be gratuitous exotica: I could quite happily live out the rest of my life without seeing another indigenous musical prologue. But song and berimbau accompaniment turn out to be an integral part of the capoeirista atmosphere. Hicks has a way with deadpan cynicism (so deadpan that it conveys itself even when he is fully masked in more classically Greek-styled drama) that informs Gordilho’s attitude not just to Besouro but also to his subordinates and his predecessor, who appears as an intermediary. Daon Broni as Besouro is a figure of both outward and inner stillness when not in the whirling, wheeling motions of the craft. And the capoeira, with the cast of eight under the direction of Mestre Carlo Alexandre Teixeira da Silva (who also appears), is a language in itself: one can discern conversations in the bodies sliding past each other, forceful arguments even when no physical contact whatever is made. May the rest of the year be this compelling.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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