‘Autoreverse’ review

Theatre, Experimental
3 out of 5 stars
Autoreverse, Battersea Arts Centre, 2020
Photograph: Alex Brenner

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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BAC’s new season kicks off with Florencia Cordeu’s intriguing autobiographical show, based on tape-recordings of her Argentinian family’s exile in Chile.

Florencia Cordeu spends a considerable portion of ‘Autoreverse’ in a hazmat suit, the kind a person wears on a nuclear site or at a fresh crime scene. She breathes through a surgical mask and snaps on latex gloves before delving into a box. The cassette tapes she picks out are each in their own zipped plastic sandwich bag, like pieces of evidence.

The set-up works as a visual metaphor for Cordeu’s whole autobiographical performance. The past needs preserving in small, sealed chunks before it disintegrates; it also risks contaminating the present, spreading like buried radiation detected years later with a Geiger counter.

Cordeu and her family fled Argentina for Chile when she was one year old to escape the military dictatorship. Her uncle is one of the ‘disappeared’ citizens thought to have been murdered by the regime, although her family have never fully understood what happened to him.

This one-woman show, co-created and directed by Omar Elerian, makes heavy use of cassette-tape recordings of family life before and after they left Argentina. They contain the usual childhood episodes such as make-believe games with superheroes, a funny anecdote involving a very fat cat falling on to the roof of a soft-top car and reflections on the adults’ secretive political life.

It’s palpable how much this show means to Cordeu and how it’s part of her quest to make sense of the missing men, country and memories in her life. There are some lovely small passages evoking South America: the peaches and tomatoes flourishing in the heat, the maté tea that tastes like grass, and the slow-growing trees her parents planned to plant.

However, it’s also one of those classically tricky autobiographical works to review. From a harshly objective point of view, it’s overly slow, a bit repetitive and inconclusive. Yet saying just that would ignore the emotion and intent behind the piece. Cordeu is attempting to articulate how shattered fragments of ‘home’, ‘family’ and ‘memory’ sit in relation to a grown-up existence in another place and time, complicated by the traumatic, hidden history of an entire nation. It all feels a bit like a work in progress. But then again, how could it not?

By: Rosemary Waugh

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