The magic chair

Private piece by Patrick Jackson, no connection to BBC News

Written after watching a double bill at the Teatre Sans in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, on 14 November 2021

The posters did it. You really cannot beat a good poster for a play, plastered up all over town. And when you check out the website for Teatre Sans, this café-theatre you have never heard of, you find words of magic: tickets will be sold on the door.

Turn up and you find yourself entering a medieval mansion (14-15th Century), following a stream of children, parents and other people, but probably not people like yourself this mid-November – a bemused British tourist who hasn’t been to the theatre for years and can’t even blame the Covid pandemic for keeping him away. Half of you wants to tour the gothic gaff and the other half can’t wait to cross the hall and see something, anything, performed on a stage.

Pay your ten euros and take the laminated token offered you, grinning behind your Covid mask at this old way of doing things in European theatres.

Inside you dock yourself against the wall, out of the way of the children’s view of the stage. You blend into the wall so well that somebody parks a buggy containing the quietest tiny baby in the world just behind your chair (true story). The lights go down, the play begins.

It’s called The Secret Diary Of The Brothers Grimm, a solo performance in Spanish by Italian actor Riccardo Rigamonti, who performs seated on a chair throughout.

Don’t ask me how good the performance is – ask the children who laugh and clap and interject, like Don Quixote getting caught up in the action of the puppet theatre.

Ask me instead about the other play that evening. 

One hour later, the same actor on the same chair on the same stage conjures up a German revenge tragedy as potent now as it was 200 years ago: Kohlhaas. A man who has suffered a wrong and is prepared to burn down the world to put it right. A man whose sense of outrage spreads like wildfire among the people that he meets, who strikes terror in the hearts of the rich and privileged.

When it’s over you know you will be haunted by the sound of the trotting of horses in your head for weeks to come, evoked by the actor tapping and clattering with his shoes, and you know you will never forget the bereavement scene in all its naked agony.

When the lights come up you hang about the foyer looking up the walls at the bills for past productions, and get to chatting with one of the Teatre Sans team, Dominic Hull, who tells you he is happy to live quite far away from the city centre, way out in the suburbs, because otherwise he would be tempted to spend all his time in this building, working for the theatre he loves. The chair used by Riccardo? Dominic salvaged it from the street, taking it back and painting it. It’s “Riccardo’s chair” now, for when he comes to town with his solo productions. And Dominic tells you of the tours the theatre has had around Spain and Latin America, pursuing the dream of a home-grown theatre for Mallorca to rival the stages of Barcelona and Madrid.

He tells you too of the theatre’s long journey back from lockdown which began this spring, the phased increase in audience numbers, and the funding threat to the theatre and its theatre school.

You remember the happy children inhabiting a gingerbread world this evening and you remember the silent grown-ups gripped by the fury of the ultimate indignado, and you wonder why you didn’t make an effort to go to the theatre when you could, and you hope it’s not too late to start supporting theatre again now because what’s a theatre without an audience? It’s just an old chair standing empty on a street.