Galleon Theatre Company, the resident producing company at the Greenwich Playhouse, stages the world première of Alice de Sousa’s translation of Bernardo Santareno’s play The Crime Of The Old Village. Based on a true story which took place in 1934 in the rural North of Portugal, this controversial play dramatises the shocking events that led to the sacrificial burning of a woman accused of witchcraft. Bernardo Santareno was Portugal’s greatest twentieth century playwright. He died in 1980 and this production commemorates the twenty five years since his death. Santareno should be positioned alongside writers like Brecht, Lorca, Pirandello and Ionesco. His plays exploded onto the Portuguese literary landscape and challenged everything that had come before and changed all that was to follow after. He described his theatre ‘as a social service’ and his plays as ‘acts of social justice’ which should be used as ‘weapons of war’. Santareno’s plays are the stories of ‘the common man’. His characters are often from humble origins and employed as domestic workers or field hands. They have popular names and do not pursue great ambitions or goals. Instead, they gently and simply exist until they are forced to the edge of some extraordinary precipice from which, against their will, they are hurdled and fall to their death. Santareno’s characters are often victims of ignorance and superstition; or of a social, religious or political injustice. The finality of death is usually the means by which the conflict is resolved and love is made impossible.
The originality and daring of Santareno’s writing must be placed within the socio-political context of a brutally oppressed Fascist dictatorship and an all-pervading Catholic Church. In 1974 when the Portuguese revolution sounded the death knell on Europe’s longest surviving Fascist regime, Santareno was amongst a group of intellectuals who used literature and theatre as a vehicle for social change and for the educating and enfranchising of the masses.
When originally published in 1959, The Crime of the Old Village posed a challenge to the Portuguese authoritarian regime and to the Catholic Church which legitimised it. For today’s spiritually divided world, it retains its religious pertinence and political verve because of its exploration of fanaticism and faith driven crimes. The Crime of the Old Village provides a shocking indictment on fanaticism and on all those who appropriate belief for their own extremist purpose. By blurring the boundaries between Christianity and witchcraft, Santareno poses timeless and ever relevant questions about the role of religion, its application and impact on mankind. Rich in characterisation and dramatic content, Galleon’s production is as abundant in religious iconography as it is bursting with sexual tension.