«Doing the play in Basque brings it closer to the reality of what Egunkaria was»

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.

2021-04-26

On 29 April, the Basque version of the play ´Los Papeles de Sísifo´ (The Sisyphus Papers) will be presented in Madrid. We have therefore conducted a brief interview with the director of the play: Fernando Bernués. The play ´Los papeles de Sísifo´ will lead the audience to remember the ´Egunkaria´ case (the closure of the only newspaper in Basque), as well as to reflect on justice, the separation of powers and the profession of journalism. The play is a co-production between the Centro Dramático Nacional (CDN) and Antzerkiz (Teatro Arriaga in Bilbao, Teatro Principal in Vitoria and Teatro Victoria Eugenia in San Sebastián) and can be seen at the Teatro María Guerrero in Madrid until the 2nd of May. Next Thursday and Friday, 29 and 30 April, the Basque version with the Spanish nicknames can be seen.

- How did this film come to be?

- The work came out of the desire to investigate one of the darkest chapters in our democracy, the closure of Egunkaria. I’ve always kept this very much in mind and a few years after the paper was shut down, I thought it was time for a sober analysis. Harkaitz Cano was asked about approaching the subject as a theatrical performance, and over the course of seven years we worked on successive versions of the play until we got to where we are. I always say that there’s a specific event that awakened my desire to do this: It was the same year Fermin Muguruza was booed when he received the award for the Best song in Basque at the closing ceremony of the 6th edition of the Spanish Music Awards. [Muguruza denounced the closure of the Basque language newspaper and dedicated the award to the Egunkaria staff and director.] I co-hosted the ceremony, and with indignation and tears in my eyes, I thought that one day I would have to talk about it. All of this inspired the idea of one day tackling the subject.

- Cano uses the myth of Sisyphus to draw parallels with the events of 2003; Sisyphus, who had chained death and thus prevented more people from dying, was condemned to climb a stone up a huge mountain every day.

- Yes, indeed, Sisyphus was condemned to climb the stone up the mountain again and again. We have used this myth as a metaphor for raising a newspaper again. Besides, as Harkaitz often says, all newspapers are created from scratch every day.

- Why did you commission Cano for the project and what insights did he contribute?

- First of all, because I like him very much, and also because we’d been wanting to work together for a long time. And above all because I was very interested telling the story of the closure of Egunkaria, not as a strictly documentary account, but rather to open up other fronts. Harkaitz had already worked on novels such as Twist, which is based on the Lasa and Zabala case but builds a narrative that goes beyond the documentary dimension. In short, he had the skills to start from recognisable facts and contort them into fictional territory, where they’re inspired by real events but can speak to other issues. That’s why I proposed Harkaitz for the job. Yes, it’s his first play, but it’s also true that he’d already worked from a recognisable real-life event, so he was the ideal person.

- Ikerne´s music is equally important…

- I really like to work with live music. Somehow, the music is there from the very beginning. Sometimes you work with a composer who comes with the music already written but here the music was created as the show was being staged. From the very beginning, with Ikerne, seeking textures, improvising on the spot and gradually fleshing out the score. And thinking about which instrument could enhance the performance, it seemed that the pulse of an electric guitar, which could capture highly intense and compulsive moments and more ballad-like moments, was the sound that the performance called for. Besides, Ikerne was already working with us on the staging and even though she hadn´t played for a few years, had a solid past as a guitarist, so I approached her for the job and she accepted.

- What has the audience reaction been so far?

In general it’s been very positive, with a feeling of understanding and warmth. There was something cathartic, for example, about premiere in Vitoria, that applause, those things that transcend the actual theatre. I mean, that the audience applauds more than the play itself, but the fact of remembering a very painful moment for Basque society in general. In the Basque Country, the reaction has been a sense of closeness. In Madrid, however, you don´t feel that familiarity with the characters, many of whom are unknown to most people. What we have felt is a lot of recognition, and that people are delighted to understand the people who were unknown to them.

- Thursday, 29th, will be the first time for this work to be presented in Basque outside the Basque Country.

- The Spanish version works by convention; that is, it works because we assume that everyone knows Spanish. But as Basque language is part of the essence of Egunkaria, we decided that staging it in Basque was imperative. It brings it closer to reality.

- What was the process of selecting the actors and how is it going with the dozen or so actors involved?

- Since I know quite a few actors from the Basque Country, I didn´t have to go through a casting process. Instead, I thought about the people who were suitable for each role. I also had to be realistic in that there are actors who play the characters in Basque and others in Spanish. On the other hand, being a project that will last for a long time, it is difficult to choose a permanent team. I´ve been lucky enough to work with people I knew quite well. I like to bring out the strong points of each actor, using what each actor brings to the stage rather than looking for a predetermined result from the beginning.

- Some of the people who lived through the process attended the rehearsals, such as the Egunkaria director Martxelo Otamendi, and the widow and daughter of Joan Mari Torrealdai.

- We had the support of Martxelo Otamendi from the beginning, when we went to him to explain that we wanted to do this show. Since then he has been a regular collaborator and his help has been invaluable. The day the people who had been directly affected came to see the first open rehearsal was very important for us, naturally. I think they felt comfortable despite the fact that we were digging into a wound that is not even completely closed in society. In the end, whether you like it or not, it means coming face to face with that reality, but I think it was exciting for everyone and it gave us a lot of peace of mind to hear their words.

 

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