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The Suburban Players: A good bite o’ theatre in English

The surburban players cast. (Photo: Melanie Henderson)

Cutely tucked away in a colonial house in the province of Buenos Aires, laughter is heard from behind a folded black curtain on a Saturday night. Peeping through the curtain’s gaps, you see bright lights shine onto the stage and feel a positive, relaxed energy coming through. This is a typical play night alongside The Suburban Players.

Recently I was recommended to go and see the theatre group in San Isidro, who not only happened to be very good, but also happened to be the best known English-speaking theatre group putting on plays in Buenos Aires. It had been a long time since I’d seen any English language theatre, so, intrigued, I went on down.

Hurriedly jumping on the train to Tigre with a friend, I was quite excited to see what they had in store. Arriving at the old house, there was very little light, making me wonder whether I had come to the right place. Unfazed, I tapped discreetly on the door. Quietly asked my name; greeted and nodded at (acknowledging our lateness) my friend and I entered. As we slipped into the front hall, murmurs of laughter drifted through the black curtains before us as the stage lights loomed through. Seconds later we were ushered inside, and took our seats.

The play running that night was, ‘The Thieves of Bad Gags’, directed by a fellow named Nicolás Sansalone and performed by the latest selection of Suburban Players. The show contained a very mixed cast; old, young, men, women, and went through a series of different comedic sketches, which were of varied tone. There was a little slapstick, a little mime, some of it outrageously outright; something for everyone really. Comedy having its particularities of course, some were funnier than others; however I have to admit I was chuckling away with everybody else throughout a fair few scenes.

Everybody in the audience was having a superb time, smiling, laughing; it was great.

On my second trip to see the Players, I went along to a rehearsal. Speaking to a few actors and director, club president Hugo Halbrich, I got the chance to gain a better insight into who the actors are and how it all came about.

I learned that the amateur theatre group includes actors from all walks of life, and all ages, who get together to produce plays in English. There are Argentines, Brits, Anglo-Argentines, Scandinavians, and well… the list goes on. It doesn’t matter where you come from; as long as you share a passion for the theatre, and know how to read your lines in English.

The group itself is technically amateur, some start with no experience whatsoever, but there are many who join who have trained elsewhere, or used to act and wanted to start up again, or to polish certain skills. Hugo himself has been in the Argentine theatre world for longer perhaps than he’d like to admit, but he actually trained as an actor and studied theatre in the US, gaining a degree and masters from two different universities in Theatre Studies.

He mentioned to me that a fair few of those who passed through the Players went on to study acting, and some made it very well in the professional world. It is also useful to include that none of the actors get paid for performing with the group, making the project much more about the power of the craft; thus taking away the complications that money can bring to a project of this type.

One of the oldest – and eldest – actors in the group, Ronnie, is Argentine, but lived for many years in England (and I have to say completely fooled me that he was British with his perfect accent). He studied theatre over in dear Blighty and – despite drifting in and out of the group due to work commitments – has quite a few productions under his belt.

And the group of actors chosen for the plays is not always the same – sometimes actors are repeated, but auditions are held for each play or mixed bill. The age-range goes from “birth to death”, Hugo says – you cannot be too old to join, and sometimes members bring their children to watch and participate. Club treasurer Alistair Berry, who has been there since the house was converted in the 1960s, used to rest his one-year-old daughter Natasha to nap, whilst he painted sets with his wife Silvina and prepared for performances.

A wall plastered with flyers from past shows. (Photo: Melanie Henderson)

The actors also come from all kinds of different professions, from insurance brokers, to managers and teachers, to mention but a few. The variety in the group brings a wonderful appeal for the audience, and enriches the quality of acting in each performance.

And the performances are of a whole range of genres, from Shakespeare, to musicals, from more well-known playwrights, to lesser-known ones. Ronnie spoke to me about the ‘glory days’, having been there since it all started, and reaffirmed that the plays listed on the walls of the entrance hall were only about 10% of the overall repertoire from over the years, but it cannot be denied that they’ve put on a great range of stuff.

They normally put on between three and four plays per year and how long each play runs for can vary, usually depending on demand. If the play is popular then they extend its run for further performances. However, it isn’t just plays that run through the house; there are workshops put on all the time, and even play readings on Sunday, where you can stay after and have a cup of tea and a piece of cake.

Anyone can go along, and one of the most important things to underline about the group is the welcoming community feel it has to it. Ronnie told me that “it’s very much like a family, where everybody gets involved,” adding: “But most of all, it’s good fun.”

Posted in The Spectator, TheatreComments (3)

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