Ángel Calvente’s puppets revive the black humor of ‘El Verdugo’ at the Soho Theater

José Luis never wanted to be an executioner. Barring some psychopathic mind, it’s not something you dream of as a kid. However, after meeting Amadeo and marrying his daughter, Carmen, the diffident funeral home worker is forced to accept the position. The portrait of the black Spain that the dictatorship brought and that the mastery of the script of Luis Garcia Berlanga Y Raphael Azcona turned into the movie The executioner, a referential work of Spanish cinema, comes back to life sixty years later. And he does it in a very special way, with the unique puppets and the personal style of Angel Calvente Y The Black Mirror.

The Soho Caixabank Theater co-produces for the second time, after Cris, brave little girl, a production by the company from Malaga, which opens this Friday. Until January 22, the Soho stage will host six performances of this adaptation, which will then travel to the Alhambra Theater in Granada. On stage, giving life to the characters will be José Vera Nicart, Carlos Cuadros, Susana Almahano Y Lain Calvente, who is also the designer of the lights together with Adrián Alcaide. Laín Calvente has also made the musical production together with Miguel Olmedo, composer of the soundtrack.

“We are delighted and excited, with a lot of nerves, after a year and a half of work, putting everything on stage with the audience in front of us creates a little pinch, even more so when you are doing your own adaptation of The executioner of Berlanga, is something that creates insecurities. Although I think that what we have done is up to par and that if Berlanga saw it he would be fascinated, I’m sure,” explains Ángel Calvente, playwright and director of the play.

On the tables, as its creator explains, a total of 16 main puppets will develop the plot. “The biggest difficulty has been the adaptation. In the film there are about 30 characters, so reducing the number and adapting the 16 main characters four people on stage has been the most complicated. There are moments in which one moves one’s feet and is doing the voice of another character who is at the other end of the stage, fitting it all in has been the most complex,” says Calvente.

After the first months of writing the text and creating the puppets, El Espejo Negro began rehearsals at the end of August. “We have been working intensively while doing functions with Chris throughout the country and on that path we have suffered, we have cried, we have laughed, but we are here ready to premiere and for it to start rolling”, adds the director. He also points out that they already have dates to participate in the Autumn Festival of the Concha Espina Theater in Cantabria, in addition to the classic appointments, the feten festival Y palm of the river in July.

The film adaptation

The founder and soul of El Espejo Negro assures that the songs choose him, more than the other way around. “I could see The executioner in my adolescence for the first time and it impacted me at that moment, it is something that I have always had in my head, Berlanga captivated me because I identify so much with his black moodwith the way of understanding and seeing Spanish society, how he moves his characters in the movies, as if they were puppets in many cases…”, indicates Calvente. In 2013 he began to make the adaptation, he confesses. But another project was crossed, Oscar the Sleeping Boy, and left it parked in a drawer, “although not forgotten”.

“I think this time was good for me because now I’m a much better director, I think I’ve matured as a playwright and that has helped me a lot more to understand Berlanga’s work, to enter into it, it’s been four arduous months for the adaptation, for try to be part of that family and feel it so close to you, I think that this was the moment”, says Calvente. And he points out that all this coincided with the fact that this 2023 is fulfilled 60 years of the film anniversary and its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, “with all that that meant for the film.”

Calvente underlines the fidelity of his proposal to the original script made by Berlanga and Azcona, “but then I have my things, my twists, I didn’t want to make a carbon copy of the film. If I’m going to make a version, I’m going to make it my own, but I can’t lose the sense that its authors gave it, because otherwise it would be harming the work and that is not what I want, what I want is to give it a new look, it is a black comedy through a satire performed by puppets“.

Although there are passages that will be totally reminiscent of the film, this work, which is recommended for adults and young people aged 14 and over, represents its own version without losing the common thread of the story. “You don’t need to have seen the movie to understand the show perfectly because The executioner It’s a very well told story,” adds the playwright.

The life of those foam rubber beings

Neither Amadeo, nor Carmen nor José Luis are in this version Pepe Isbert, Emma Penella and Nino Manfredi. They are the protagonists that Calvente devised when he began to develop the adaptation. “I wanted them to be my own characters, not the ones that appear in the film. And once I’m involved in the story I am creating them with their special characteristics. My Carmen is a very smart woman for her time, although submissive and involved in the social gear of the time, she has weapons of seduction and uses them, “explains Calvente. And he emphasizes that José Luis is the character that has cost him the most to physically create “I wanted him to have that diffident face, but at the same time a touch of mischief,” he says.

“The puppet has only one problem, that it does not gesticulate, it only moves its eyes and mouth. José Luis had to give many registers in the same character, so I have made different faces that gradually transform and at the end of the show it is already another José Luis”, points out Calvente. In the puppet theater, he says, “the main actor is in front of you and is 60 centimeters tall. And you have to make him breathe, walk, talk, we have to create life through movement and have them say a text, sometimes , very complicated, and that they have feelings and that with that mask that they have, that does not move, we make them live, suffer or cry”.

So that a piece of foam is filled with emotions and transmit them to the viewer, the actors who manipulate them leave their skin behind, with rehearsals and rehearsals in which they coordinate their movements to the millimeter, synchronized like clockwork, with voices, lights, sound effects and music that transport the public to another universe. That, in this case, in which a family tries to stick its head out to be able to breathe in a suffocating reality assumed by decree.

Ángel Calvente’s puppets revive the black humor of ‘El Verdugo’ at the Soho Theater