(Chris Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/24; Authentic and earnest … Óscar Jaenada in Noviembre. Photograph: Album/Alamy.)
Actors roam Madrid, springing provocative performances on passersby, in Achero Mañas’s vibrant faux-documentary
Can theatre change the world? Not, you suspect, if it’s a ticketed performance watched from a red velvet seat with a glossy programme and an ice-cream. The guerrilla theatre-makers in the 2003 Spanish film Noviembre, directed by Achero Mañas, have a 10-point manifesto for the revolution they’re staging on the streets. All their performances are free and available to all, they accept no private or public subsidies, and only original material is presented. If you’ve acted for TV or film then forget it – you’re banned from Noviembre.
The group is led by Alfredo (Óscar Jaenada), who arrives in Madrid from Murcia in the late 90s to attend drama school. Alfredo auditions with a piece he has created for a homemade marionette but comes to believe it is his fellow actors who are treated like puppets by their tutor, Yuta (played by veteran Argentinian theatre legend Héctor Alterio). He resents Yuta’s expectation that actors will divulge their most personal secrets in service of a performance. Damning that approach as group therapy, he drops out to seek a more spontaneous relationship with the audience, who he believes should interact with the performance, not sit in the stalls like statues.
Mañas presents the film as if it is a documentary, with older versions of the main characters appearing as talking heads, reflecting on the ups and downs of the company who live together in a squat that they aim to turn into a cultural centre. This is not a mockumentary – we are never invited to laugh at their exploits. If anything, the tone is earnest and the company’s performances are named, dated and shown in lengthy episodes with the older actors’ reflections alongside. The documentary format invites us to seriously appraise the art of their street theatre and implicitly suggests that the company has left a legacy.