Sanchis Sinisterra is a Spanish playwright with a long career and many successes who is in the theater news because a new production of El lector por horas/Reader by the hours. This play toured in Spain the last quarter of 2023 and was in Barcelona at the Sala Beckket, in Valencia at the Teatro Rialto and in Madrid at the Teatro de la Abadía.
This new production has been as successful as when the play premiered in 1999. However, the play is not as popular as it is in Spain. It was El cerco de Leningrado/The siege of Leningrad that brought him success abroad, although he would become more popular thanks to the Carlos Saura’s film ¡Ay, Carmela! based on his eponymous play, which was the Spanish candidate to Oscars.
However, the plot of Reader by the hours is attractive for drama-lovers and professionals. It is the story of a rich businessperson who hires a reader for his daughter who is blind. Nothing important occurs apart from the conversation that the reader has with the businessperson and his daughter. All of them love literature, although they differ about texts they prefer. Books such as Heart of darkness by Joseph Conrad or Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo.
In addition, there are few things known about the characters apart from they are fond of books. There are small references to the ex-wife of the businessperson. On the other hand, to the accident which caused daughter’s blindness. Alternatively, to the professor’s desperate need to get the job.
The play becomes a thriller due to these hidden parts of their lives, in which every character is trying to uncover them based on the little pieces of information they have. Such as something that was said in a conversation, or the list of books they like. And, in the case of the blind daughter, based in the tone of voice of the reader when he reads some parts of the books or how he smells every day.
It is a simple plot that lets the playwright and the director knit a complex spider web of literature. A place where the characters are trapped as insects and, like them, they have the feeling that they might die sooner rather than later.
Carles Alfaro, the stage director, uses all those elements in a way that reminds audience of the menace and the mystery of Pinter’s plays mixed with the elegance of Noel Coward texts. A feeling supported using soft and almost dark lighting, a request of the blind listener, where a lamp illuminates the texts that the teacher reads. In addition, the set design, which includes a piano, leather armchair and marble floor, is reminiscent of the luxurious homes of the classy rich.
However, the only way to ensure that this atmosphere reaches the hearts and minds of the audiences is through acting. It means that any production of this play needs a good cast and this one has it, as it includes Pere Ponce as the teacher reader, Mar Ulldemolins as the blind daughter and Pep Cruz as the businessperson.
A cast who has the quality their roles need because they know how to play the ambiguity of what they say and perform and, at the same time, to be accurate with what they say. This ability is not so common on the stage, and, in this case, it is important for grabbing the attention of the audiences with a difficult text because of its literature references and their dubious meanings.
Ultimately, the combination of all those elements shows that many Spanish journalists and the theater professionals were wrong. In their opinion, the first production had been so terrific and unforgettable that any new one could seem like a fiasco compared to the original.
Nevertheless, Reader by the hours not only has the features to be a Spanish contemporary classic, but also has theatrical values to become a classic of world dramatic literature. This kind of characteristics that leading producers, directors, and stars love and global audiences want to see on the stage. So, who will be the first to premiere it outside of Spain in order to succeed globally?
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.
This post was written by Antonio Hernández Nieto.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.