Filmed theater is one of the unfathomable mysteries of the screen. Very rarely does it work and what was so intense and compelling on stage can easily become overly theatrical and incoherent on film. Nevertheless, TV3’s new program Incidents produced by El Terrat is determined to buck that trend. Based on an original idea by Andreu Buenafuente, the first batch of four episodes features four independent theater companies each commissioned to create a piece of TV fiction from scratch. Of course, with a handful of conditions, namely that the action must take place in just one space, with a limit on the number of actors appearing, and with everything shot in just one long sequence. Based on these criteria, La Calòrica, Sixto Paz, El Eje and Companyia Solitària have created four pieces that are vastly different, in both form and substance, but that as a whole shed light on the topics close to the hearts of the new creative talents at the vanguard of the Catalan theater scene.
La Calòrica is probably the headliner of the four, as the company has achieved notable success with shows like De qué hablamos mientras no hablamos de toda esta mierda (What We Talk About While We’re Not Talking About All This Shit), and Las Aves (The Birds). On this occasion it is behind an episode entitled Snegovik that is set in a corridor of the emblematic Catalan government building Palau de la Generalitat. Amid an energy crisis, two ministers – one for the environment and the other for business – plan to solve it in a way not totally above board while trying to keep an inquisitive journalist at bay. The piece depicts how power always corrupts and does so with the company’s typical vaudeville tone. The corridor provides a lot of scope to play with thanks to doors that open and close, just like in a Lubitsch comedy, allowing a wide range of characters to emerge from behind them – another trademark of the company is that each actor has a variety of roles – most of them selfish and pathetic. The underlying message? Indifference towards climate change. If you tell a politician that a colossal collapse will occur two days from now, they will consider themselves lucky to have a whole day before they need to tackle the problem.
Even more drastic, and with an unmistakably dramatic tone, is El Eje’s episode, Demà (Tomorrow). The montage locates the three lead characters – a ‘throuple’, a ‘couple’ of three – at the end of the world, literally. Set in the year 2043, the marginalized live in the ground floor apartments of the neighborhood of La Barceloneta, on the footsteps of an encroaching Mediterranean sea, and in one of these decrepit buildings a woman is about to give birth in these circumstances so desperate (and with such a bleak outlook). It’s not far from the world of Parasite, except that, in this case, privilege lies simply in living in a second floor apartment.
Less apocalyptic, but no less disturbing, is Tots sants from the Sixto Paz company, in which acting duo Dafnis Bauluz and Pau Roca play two friends trying to rekindle their friendship while making the traditional Catalan pastries – panellets – for All Saints’ Day. As they make smalltalk, it becomes clear that one is a success in life – at least by popular standards – while the other has ended up in a complicated situation and lost much of his personal autonomy. He is no longer considered of use to society, and he knows it. Mental health issues are touched on in their tense dialogue transmitting both impotence and tenderness.
The lineup is rounded out by Companyia Solitària’s Perafita 1714, a return to the past that serves as the setting for a classic storyline – that of the wounded warrior and the woman with medical knowledge who heals him – but otherwise departs from what viewers will expect. Though the conventions of the genre dictate that she should pursue a romantic relationship with him, she won’t. That said, the characters seem to behave as if in a movie, which makes you wonder about the extent to which we have allowed the norms of fiction to infiltrate our lives.
Incidents is in a similar vein to those low cost series that aim to turn a challenge into an opportunity and harness the power of constraints to get the creative juices flowing. It is reminiscent of The Collapse (L’Effondrement) in that it consistently uses the single sequence shot as a way to capture moments in their entirety, such as seeing how people react to what might be called the quiet apocalypse. The millennial generation seems to equate the attitude of society today with that of the frog in a pot of water that is rising in temperature until it boils – a metaphor that is literal in this case – and unable to make the necessary leap to escape. Another reference is Room 104, that series in which every episode takes place in the same room, but each time using a different genre and with a new storyline and cast.
Incidents plays a public service role in that it provides a way to discover emerging theater companies (thanks also to the brief profile on them after each episode), brings together two worlds that too often turn their backs on each other, and enriches TV3 with creative talents who until now were unable to reach such a wide audience. Each episode is a blank canvas and, as is the case with compilations, it would be absurd to expect every one of them to hit the mark. But it’s an appealing approach because the pieces go beyond the cliché of static filmed theater while retaining fortes such as the interpretative tension, the pleasure of the spoken (and heard) word, and the creation of a potent atmosphere. As well as the ability to pack a powerful punch as a wake up call to society, of course.