Toro! Toro! at Brewery Theatre

‘Franco is dead!’

Toro! Toro! starts at the end of a hugely important chapter in Spanish history and immediately rewinds to the 1930s, when Miguel was Miguelito, a young boy growing up in the village of La Sauceda, as remote as you’re likely to find in the hills of Andalucía.

Adapted by Simon Reade from the Michael Morpugo novel of the same name, Toro! Toro! is a tale of love and loss, of family and destruction, of birth and death, of dancing and sorrow.  Miguelito becomes entranced by Paco, the strong, determined, majestic black bull, as soon as he witnesses him being brought into his world.  The orphaned calf is soon adopted by the boy and he will do anything to be with him, even if that means deceit. Or running away.

Paco will NOT become a fighting bull, forced to dance the steps of La Corrida to his death!

The fight for survival features strongly in this play.  Set in the early days of the Spanish Civil War, La Sauceda was a refuge for Republican sympathisers, hiding from the forces of Franco’s fascist party.  Toro! Toro! details its discovery by the regime and the result is devastating, blowing our young hero’s world apart.

Gary Turner is the only actor on stage.  His monologue helps us to travel through the forests of Southern Spain and he plays Miguelito with passion and conviction.   Through Turner’s natural storytelling we’re with him every step of the way: in conversation with his parents; in collusion with his sister, in admiration of Tito, his uncle, the celebrated Matador.  We watch him cry. We’re with him when he has to make important decisions.  We sit open-mouthed at his first bull-fight. We carry with us the legend of the ghostly black bull, fighting for the Republic.  The first word I spoke when Turner took his last bow?  “Remarkable.”

The stage is simple and, coupled with Turner’s presence and ease with words, it is complete.  A backdrop of those Andalucian hills is cleverly lit to represent day and night and the spaces in between.  There are splats of deep red on the floor, animal feed from the family farm, a magnificent matador’s outfit of gold and jewels and his red cape, signifying the blood of the bulls and of murdered civilians.

There is a lot to this short play (just over an hour long).  As a former university student of everything Spanish and a resident of that province, I could have done with watching it 20 years ago.  As for my daughter?  She’s seven years old and I’m still not sure:  I think she did very well to sit through the whole performance without wriggling.  She hasn’t said much yet but I know that snippets of the story will come through and questions will be asked later.   The recommended age is 8+ but I might increase that to 10 or 12+, not for the content but for the wordiness of the script, which takes concentration for a young person, in particular.

If you enjoy a good story and would like to broaden your knowledge of Spanish history, I heartily recommend Toro! Toro!

Toro! Toro! runs at the Brewery Theatre until Saturday 16th November

– Review by Becky Condron

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