I thought I knew this part of London quite well, but I had never been to Old Union Arches (near Southwark Station) before. What a hidden gem! Colourful twinkling lights lead the way to this perfect little theatre where Spanish voices surround you, one could almost imagine you were abroad again. The Cervantes Theatre is dedicated to showcasing Spanish and Latin American plays, performed in both Spanish and English. Luckily for me tonight’s production Joe Strummer Takes a Walk is performed in English.
Juan Alberto Salvatierra wrote his play after hearing a Spanish radio programme interviewing Antonio Arias about his then latest album. Antonio related the story of how his brother Jesus accompanied Joe Strummer to Víznar in 1985 to try to locate and dig up the remains of the poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, who had been murdered by Franco’s Nationalist militia and whose body had never been found. Following that interview Salvatierra became captivated, listening to Clash albums on repeat and reading biographies of Strummer. As a result of this passion for Strummer and the Clash, he wrote this play, in the language he felt most comfortable with, his native Spanish. Later the play script won an award which made it possible to have it translated into English. Tonight, was the world premiere and it has not yet been performed in Spanish, although this remains a potential prospect.
I was quite apprehensive; Joe Strummer is quite possibly my greatest hero, and consequently, I resent seeing or hearing negative impressions or characterisations of him. I needn’t have worried; Robert Bradley is wonderful in what is almost an 85-minute solo performance. He doesn’t try to do a clunky and awkward impression, rather he catches Strummer’s way of speaking and mannerisms perfectly. The set is minimal, a digital backdrop shows the pine and olive trees that are typical of this part of Spain, the stage is covered with white sheets broken up by a few lumps and bumps representing the field and its topography. ‘Joe’ walks on carrying; a pickaxe, a spade and a cassette player. It is 49 years after the murder of Lorca, and he expresses his disbelief that the people of Europe or even those from Spain, have not yet endeavoured to retrieve Lorca from his final resting place, an unmarked mass grave into which he was unceremoniously dumped. He resolves to be the one who will find him. In an aside, Strummer recalls a visit to an off-off-off-off West End theatre in 1976 or thereabouts where he saw a dire production of one of Lorca’s plays.
Despite the best efforts of the actors and director to sully it, Lorca’s poetry resonated with him, almost overwhelming him and initiating a lifelong personal affinity with his work. On his way home through the West End he sees an enormous black horse, nobody else seems to notice it. The horse spoke to him, uttering only one word, ‘BLENAMIBOA’, a jumbling of the word ‘Abominable’, which interestingly is the same in Spanish and English. The horse reappears in his bedroom that night, and Joe decides that its appearance is a sign, telling him to go to Granada and find Lorca, which several years later he does.
A very strange story I’ll agree, but it was most believable and entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed Robert Bradley rendition’s of Clash songs, it was a novel experience to be able to understand the words, enunciation not being one of Joe Strummer’s talents. He is accompanied by the black horse (played by Jake Clifford), who appears in Víznar and begins to play several Clash songs on keyboards.
He works his way through the backstory of the Clash and many of their songs. This play is quite bizarre, totally unique, just like the man himself. I loved it.
Review by Sally Knipe
In 1985, Joe Strummer was in Granada and decided, together with Jesús Arias, with a pick and a shovel, to unearth the corpse of Federico García Lorca.
The punk star unearthing García Lorca… Joe Strummer takes a walk is the result of that emotion and that need to know a fantastic story.
Directed by Jorge de Juan, founder and Artistic Director of The Cervantes Theatre, and starring Robert Bradley. The play is translated by L. Finch.
Joe Strummer Takes a Walk will run from 21st Sep to 16th Oct.