What happens when you are forced to reckon with a life that didn’t turn out as you had imagined? Get ready for a wild journey of discovery that may lead to some unexpected answers.
Spanish Steps takes a comical and poignant look at the conundrums of fatherhood, as told through the eyes of both a father and a daughter. Trapped in a basement, two work colleagues push each other’s buttons and are desperate to find a way out. In this two-hander comedy-drama, Barry (played by Gavin Werner) is a middle-aged, grey-haired, balding white man confronting a life of un-fulfilment: 25 years in an lifeless marriage, 25 years as an underachieving employee for the same insurance company. He is estranged from his 25-year old daughter - on the eve of her wedding.
Barry’s counterpart is Maureen (played by Dianne Simpson), the company’s HR director. She is an earnest corporate player but struggles with her own issues around aging, loneliness and mistrust of men. Confined together in a basement, the protagonists get to know more than they wanted -about one another. They enter into a fraught dance, triggering each other’s deepest issues and becoming mirrors for each other’s blind spots. As the tensions rise, the audience is left wondering if they will push each other over the edge, or help each other become unstuck?
Described as ‘fresh, funny and tragically Human’ by Megan Choritz (the Weekend Special), the play, at its core, delves into the roles we perform to meet what’s expected of us. As arts critic Robyn Cohen of The Cape Robyn, observes, much has been said about the plight of women, so often over-burdened and under-valued as caregivers. Less visible, and less comfortable, are explorations of the ways in which men, too, become weighed down, tethered to domesticity and trapped by expectations of being providers in the traditional, binary sense of conventional marriage. Spanish Steps shines a new light on these fraught gender dynamics – from an unapologetically middle-aged white man’s view.
The play introduces perspectives on fatherhood that are not often spoken about. In conversation with Robyn Cohen of The Cape Robyn website, playwright Gavin Werner, who also plays Barry, reflected on how making sense of his own difficult relationship with his father fuelled his writing: ‘It was a tough relationship and I spent much of my own life completely befuddled by his seemingly difficult behaviour. At the same time as I grew older and started exhibiting some of the same traits as my dad, I was able to develop some understanding of what he struggled with and above all an appreciation of what a fundamentally good human being he was. He was utterly loyal and dependable. He worked incredibly hard and he sacrificed an enormous amount for the wellbeing of his family. And when the storm clouds of anger and depression weren’t brewing, he had a wonderful sense of humour. It left me wondering why so many good people; men in particular, exhibit the ugly behaviour that we now call toxic masculinity. A lot has been made of this phenomenon in the last few years but we seldom ask why it exists and if we do, we rarely ask the question in a spirit of compassion.’
Gavin Werner and Dianne Simpson vividly conjure up Barry and Maureen – two lost souls connecting and at times helping, at times needling and provoking, one another to see a way forward. Sensitive and tender direction by Caroline Midgely, melding two very different people together and embedding the audience in the journey so that they, too, can emerge with a smile and a sense of feeling upbeat.
Spanish Steps was commissioned for the curated programme at the National Arts Festival in 2022, and returned to the NAF Fringe Festival in 2023 to stellar reviews. ‘Littered with quirky moments while delving deep into the human condition, Spanish Steps is a masterpiece in triggering emotional understanding,” – Devon Koen, HeraldLive. Scroll down to the review for the link.
Spanish Steps will be at the Masambe Theatre at the Baxter 10 - 22 October, 2023. Book at Webtickets or navigate via the Baxter’s website