La Chunga by Mario Vargas Llosa sees us transported to Piura, a
small town in Northwestern Peru in which four patrons of a small
late night bar booze and gamble away money they don't have on dice
which never seem to quite roll the way they're required. Night
after night the men are silently watched by the hard-nosed landlady
Chunga, who tolerates their incessant lewd banter and lecherous
advances in return for their business and occasional tips.
One night the leader of the gang (and all-round bad egg)
Josefino finds himself unable to forget his male pride and walk
away from the game, so instead offers his beautiful lover Meche to
Chunga in exchange for 3000 sols, enough money to stay in for one
more round. Chunga, mesmerised by the beautifully innocent Meche,
now owns her for one night only.
The play shows each of the men who were in the bar on that
fateful night imagining what happened between Meche and Chunga
whilst they were left drinking alone in the bar and spins into an
exciting web of reality and fantasy for all involved, especially
The moment Chunga, played in this production by the statuesque
Victoria Grove, walked onto the stage I knew I was in love with
her. A totally captivating and believable performance, Chunga or
Chungita as her regulars affectionately refer to her as, must be
about 6 feet tall. She swaggers around her bar barefoot and sits
with legs apart, swigging vermouth as she is teased and prodded by
the men who frequent her bar. They ask her repeatedly, desperately,
to tell them what happened on the night of the indecent proposal
but she usually responds with her favourite come-back 'ask your
mother' in her husky... amazing, voice.
After seeing La Chunga described as 'a highly charged erotic feast
for the senses' and now having seen the production myself, I would
have to agree. The play was searing hot with sexual tension
especially between the two women characters with the dingy but warm
hispanic style set adding to the heat generated by the cast.
Victoria Grove is unequivocally HOT and a short blast of British
fresh air during the interval between acts was much appreciated.
The small performance space at the back of the Pheonix Arts Centre
was a perfect location for this play with the gentle chatter and
merriment of people outside coming through the walls but
brilliantly complimenting the bar atmosphere on stage. It was so
intimate a late-arriving audience member virtually sat down at the
table the actors were playing out their dice game on.
After seeing what happens between Chunga and Meche in the first
act and some brilliant flamenco style dancing, we come to the
second act where the tone changes slightly. In typically dark Vargo
Llosa style we are shown the sometimes quite unsettling imaginings
of what happened that night from the four men who were present and
a lot of complex themes are touched upon, including domestic
violence, rape and some more regular violence, the highlight
performance-wise comes in the form of an outstanding monologue to
the audience from Josefino which had everyone on the edge of their
La Chunga was a totally unexpected but wonderful find and from a
lesbian perspective, it was frank and honest portrayal of female
sexuality which was erotic and at times very touching. If you can
catch this play before it finishes on the 19th February, you must
as it's very rare to find such a brave and unique production.
LA CHUNGA by Mario Vargas Llosa
Phoenix Artist Club, 1 Phoenix Street, London WC2H
January 24 to February 19, 2012
Tickets: Buy tickets