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Sunday 26th October 2008
Theatre Review | LOLA | Trestle @ Riverside Studios [end of tour]

Flamenco guitar, stomping feet, plenty of cleavage and some saucy work with a fan, it’s Trestle Theatre Company bringing us excerpts – a selection of tapas, if you like – from the true story of a little nineteenth-century Irish girl who transformed herself into notorious Spanish dancer and courtesan Lola Montez. Thanks to a full-blooded performance by Georgina Roberts in the title role, Trestle’s Lola is an entertaining romp of a show.

This is a devised piece, with all the strengths and weaknesses that term can imply. The intense level of research into flamenco music and dance by the company, under director Emily Gray, is stunningly apparent; they ran workshops with Increpación Danza, a Barcelona flamenco dance company. The actors’ detailed absorption in their characters shows too; when Lola greets an audience latecomer she is perfectly in character.

The storyline is weak, however, with not enough differentiation of the episodes in her life and little dramatic push. It needs a dispassionate eye to look at a story and assess which episode is the strongest and most likely to engross the hearts and minds of the audience. Collaboration too often throws everything into the pot, producing, in this case, tapas instead of a satisfying meal. It is really only the charisma of Lola’s character that sustains our interest.

But what a character she was. Tempestuous, sexy – what she lacked in dancing skill she certainly made up for in allure – this was a seductress on a grand scale, numbering King Ludwig of Bavaria and the composer Franz Liszt among her conquests.

Trestle have framed the play with a lecture given by Lola towards the end of her life, making use both of published lectures she indeed gave and of her autobiography. This is not a great idea, for a lecture informs rather than dramatizes, and Trestle’s production is often guilty of describing this dramatic life, instead of fully dramatizing it. Moreover, I suspect that Lola wrote as she lived, with more flamboyance than self-knowledge, for if there is a story to be told about what it is like to live life as your own invention, it is not told here.

Things are not helped by having all the male parts played by an actress (Fiona Putnam), a strange decision in the light of the importance men played in Lola’s rise to fame, giving her a leg-up, or, more appropriately, leg-over throughout her life. Whether playing King Ludwig or the love of Lola’s life who mysteriously fell overboard into the sea, Putnam, though physically impressive, never seriously convinces as a man. She is apparently directed to play them all as farcical ciphers, the butt of Lola’s great joke, and the effect is to thin the play down, keeping it at the level of a pastiche.

That said, there are many pleasures to be had, not least the neat work with props, from fans and mantillas to a trunk and clothes rail, suggesting both the little girl who loved to dress up and her subsequent life on the road, conducting flirtations from the kingdom of her dressing-room. The stirring flamenco guitar of Ricardo Garcia is good too, speaking of an authentic Spain beyond the clichés. However, it is Georgina Roberts’ Lola who holds the eye at all times. Earthy and funny, she sings and dances up a perfect Spanish storm, seducing the audience just as little Eliza Gilbert from Limerick must have once done.

© Claire Ingrams 2008

Lola is at the Riverside Studios until 2 November 2008 and will be touring again in Spring 2009 with dates to be confirmed.

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