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Across Europe, there are many festivals of outdoor arts.  One of the biggest and most spectacular is Fira Tàrrega.  Every September, this tiny Catalan town in Northern Spain plays host to an extraordinary array of outdoor theatre, dance and circus.  With roots dating back to the 1930s, Fira Tàrrega attracts thousands of artists, audiences and programmers from across the world.  The annual trip to Tàrrega feels like a pilgrimage to the spiritual home of outdoor arts.

Over four days, the festival presents hundreds of performances by artists from across Spain, Europe and beyond.  I go to Tàrrega to look for some of the best shows for Bell Square for the following year.  It is impossible to see everything, so I always arrive with a rigorous schedule that fills every waking moment with the most interesting looking shows!

A couple of years ago, when I arrived in Tàrrega, I asked Jordi Duran, the Artistic Director of the festival, for his top 3 recommendations of shows to see at the festival that year.  One of them was A House Is Not A Home – a new show being performed for the first time by a young theatre company called Companyia Ignífuga.  It wasn’t on my list but it was a great recommendation!

On 23 September, Cia Ignífuga brings A House Is Not A Home to Bell Square.  The company and the play on which their show is based will not be familiar to most people in London, so I hope some background information will be interesting alongside seeing the show.

CIA. IGNÍFUGA   Who are Cia Ignífuga? In English, they are Fireproof Theatre! The company started in Barcelona in 2011. At the Institut del Teatre, the university of performing arts in Barcelona, a group came together around a shared vision of what theatre should be, at this early point - this still rather disorientated point - of the 21st century.

This group of young theatre makers and actors want to make shows that comment on our contemporary lives.  And they want our experience as audiences, when we see their shows, to be emotional as well as intellectual.

A HOUSE IS NOT A HOMEA House Is Not A Home is Cia Ignífuga’s third show together.  It is based on Interior, a play by a Flemish writer, Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949).  Maeterlinck is remembered and recognised principally for his early plays, written in his late 20s and early 30s.  Interior was one of these notable works, written in 1894 when he was only 32.

Most of Maeterlinck’s work is written in a way that stirs the reader’s own feelings, stimulating their own imagination, and this comes through strongly in Cia Ignífuga’s adaptation of Maeterlinck’s play.  Maeterlinck wrote what he called ‘modern tragedy’ and believed that people are powerless against the forces of fate, that we are all pushed and pulled by circumstances beyond our control. 

A House Is Not A Home is a very simple story.  Friends and family start to arrive at a house for a dinner party.  The group are laughing and enjoying themselves, whilst they wait for the last guest to arrive.  It gets quite late and still the guest has not arrived.

A car then arrives at the house, unnoticed by the residents inside.  The two people inside the car have come with bad news. They can see the people inside the house, in high spirits, and argue about how they can break the bad news to them.  How can they disrupt this happy occasion?  The show then centres on this tension between the anxiety of the people outside the house, and the happiness and innocence of the people inside - and how, with a few words, their sense of security will be shattered.

It was partly Cia Ignífuga’s presentation of the piece that attracted me to this show.  Going to see it one night at the festival, I walked along a dark lane away from Tàrrega’s town centre to an even darker, muddy field.  In the field stood a ‘small house’.  The living room lights were on and we could see the inhabitant of the house preparing for her guests to arrive.

A few rows of chairs were set out for the audience a little way away from the house.  We were all given headphones through which we would hear the conversations inside the house and inside the car.  It is a slightly unsettling experience, voyeuristic. You can hear every word that they say, but you are outside in the dark.  They can’t see you, watching.   

The show demands from us a degree of self-reflection.  It reminds us of those moments, when we walk past our neighbour’s house at night and, protected by darkness, feel a temptation, almost a compulsion, to look into their home, to look into their lives, just for a moment as we pass by.

The show does create a certain degree of discomfort.  Laughing, Jordi had said, “It will be one of the most disturbing pieces in the festival this year!”  The conversation through headphones is close to you, you feel almost inside the show.  But you are also at a distance.  You are safe, it’s not you that this is happening to. But it could be you. This could happen to any one of us.

Come and see something different – and support this great young company!  This is their first international performance outside Spain.

A House Is Not A Home is at Bell Square on Saturday 23 September 2017.  There are 2 performances – at 7.30 pm and 9.15 pm.  The show lasts approximately 1 hour. Please arrive at least 20 minutes in advance to pick up your headphones and be instructed on how to use them.

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