Venecia | The Gate, London

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The Independent Culture

To pay for a trip to Venice, they would have to "screw half of South America", reckons one of the whores in the remote Argentinian brothel that forms the setting in Venecia. Why they want to go there, and the fantastical manner in which they transcend the considerable obstacles to doing so, is the subject of Jorge Accame's humorous, heartfelt play, which now receives its English language premiÿre at the Gate in a production of potent, unforced charm by Rebecca Gatward.

To pay for a trip to Venice, they would have to "screw half of South America", reckons one of the whores in the remote Argentinian brothel that forms the setting in Venecia. Why they want to go there, and the fantastical manner in which they transcend the considerable obstacles to doing so, is the subject of Jorge Accame's humorous, heartfelt play, which now receives its English language premiÿre at the Gate in a production of potent, unforced charm by Rebecca Gatward.

It's a short piece but, with droll calculation, it seems to take all the time in the world to build to its eventual haunting, poetic climax. The sultry patio of a whorehouse in the middle of the outback is in no danger of being mistaken for a high-powered intellectual salon and the play, appealingly translated by the director and Alison Gordon, manages to make affectionate fun of the unhurried pace of mental activity in this cut-off world, while also gently highlighting the economic destitution.

A very funny study in misplaced macho conceit, Vincenzo Nicoli's paunchy, moustachioed Chato swaggers in with a little borrowed electric organ as though this humble gadget was up there with a Cadillac in the penis-enhancement stakes. The whores - whose mix of rivalry and exasperated fondness is expertly conveyed by the actresses (Renee Weldon as the sulkily sexy newcomer; Jane Lowe and Bernice Steger as her leathery older colleagues) - don't even know where Venice is and they would have jointly pleasured Chato in order to find out, if he hadn't been so thick as to tell them just as they were starting.

The travel project is prompted by the brothel's ancient madam, La Gringa (Helen Ryan) who wishes to redeem her youth by going to Venice and re-embracing the one true love of her life: Don Giacomo, an Italian whom she courted in Buenos Aires and from whom she stole the money to set up the whorehouse. La Gringa is now blind, so the whores devise a method of fulfilling her last wish that, instead of requiring hard cash, involves an electric fan, a plank, a leather belt, two notes on the electric organ, a guide book, a nearby lake, and some fanciful improvisation with pidgin Italian from the reluctant Chato.

It would be unfair to reveal exactly how the play ends, except to say that it left me wondering whether Accame had been inspired by the episode in Ibsen's Peer Gynt where the hero eases his mother's passage into death by taking her on a vivid pretend sleigh-ride through forests and over fjords to an emblematic castle. In Venecia, poignancy and absurdity exquisitely mingle as the fake gondola ride, which includes a commentary that conveniently sites both St Peter's and the Leaning Tower of Pisa on the canal banks, becomes a symbol of the imagination's power to achieve a validity that rivals reality. The Gate's "Remembering the Future" season has, thanks to the broad, thought-provoking suggestiveness of its title, thrown up some rich rarities from Australia to Japan. Accame's play brings the series to a rewarding close.

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