The story behind Tejas Verdes

Director Emily Louizou explains the reasons why she chose Fermín Cabal’s visceral play.

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Choosing the next play to direct is always a tricky – and exciting – choice. Hamletmachine was a very challenging piece of text and our production in July was one I am very proud of because of the hard work of a group of great collaborators.

After we had finished from Hamletmachine I started reading a lot of new plays, and it was by chance that I came across Fermín Cabal’s play called Tejas Verdes. Even though it was published in 2004 and had its UK premiere in 2005, I had not heard of it so didn’t know at all what to expect. I still remember, though, feeling chills down my spine while reading it the first time!

It is a play about the dictatorship of General Pinochet who after a brutal Coup in Chile in 1973 stayed in power until 1990 bringing years of extreme censorship and violations of all basic human rights. To my surprise, I soon realized as reading the play that Tejas Verdes was actually an old hotel that Pinochet had turned into a torture centre. In fact, hundreds of thousands were forced into exile during his regime, but most shockingly more than 20,000 people were arrested and cruelly tortured in Pinochet’s detention centres, with over 3,000 being brutally killed. I was utterly devastated and even though I felt the need to tell this story, I mostly felt the need to address the issue of totalitarianism as a whole in today’s world.

According to the very first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally” and according to Article 3 “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” I cannot even imagine that the very leader of a country can be the one to violate all the basic requirements for human dignity and autonomy. It is outrageous how Pinochet was in essence a murderer – not only killing, but violently torturing thousands just because they had different beliefs and hence were seen as a threat to his regime. The methods of torture his regime used were appallingly inhuman.

All of this, but even more so the situation in the world today has made it a critical time for this play to come back to London – the place where Pinochet was indeed arrested in 1998 – as a reminder and a celebration of human rights and freedom.

Our production is not just going to be about Chile, it is going to be for and about our present. What we want to address is the huge importance and need for tolerance and respect. I find it inconceivable that a human being can torture, kill, or target another human being just because he has different views and beliefs, or comes from a different country. And yet the rapid rise of fascism and terrorism in our day is frightening.

44 years after Pinochet’s coup I wonder whether our world has changed much…