“Is theatre really dead?” Philosophical implications of the semi-rhetorical question aside, the answer is: “Not in Barcelona.” An English-language theatre company based just a stone’s throw from Plaça Espanya has been quietly putting on quality productions for years. Jocular Theatre’s 14th production, The 39 Steps, opens on January 18th.
Jocular is a non-profit group with the mission statement of “bringing quality theatre in English to Barcelona’s ever-increasing international community… and, you know, making people laugh.” The group was founded in 2003 by American import Joshua Zamrycki.
Although Zamrycki insists that he never sought out a career in the theatre, it seems to be his calling. From his first role in Annie The Musical at the age of five, he went on to study Meisner acting technique at Bingham ton University in New York state. “My plan was always to become a high school math teacher, direct the school plays, coach the boys’ volleyball team, and be a lifeguard on the beach during the summer. But life rarely works out as we plan,” says Zamrycki.
He came to Barcelona for a temporary stay immediately after graduating from college. (That was 15 years ago). He auditioned for a play produced by a group called 12x12 Theatre. “I went on to act in a few more of their productions before I decided that I’d like to try my hand at directing,” he adds. “Nobody was producing the deliciously dark comedies that I really enjoy, so I decided to do it myself.” He started Jocular Theatre in 2003 by directing a production of Christopher Durang’s The Marriage of Bette and Boo, in the Teatre de la Riereta in the Raval.
Although Zamrycki and his cast were the first English group to perform in that space, he says that over the years the Teatre de la Riereta became known as the unofficial home for English theatre in Barcelona, until economic pressures forced the historic space to shut its doors in 2012. Since then the Jocular Theatre productions have been based out of the Fundació Cultural Hostafrancs.
The 39 Steps was originally a 1915 novel by John Buchan, later adapted into a post-war thriller by Alfred Hitchcock in his 1935 film version. The recent 2005 stage adaptation by Patrick Barlow is, in Zamrycki’s words, “very much a comedy, more a Monty Python sketch than a juicy spy novel.” The play follows the same story and even retains much of the original dialogue of the 1935 film, but all of the more than one hundred characters in the film are portrayed by only four actors, including (somehow) a full Scottish bagpipe marching band.
Only one actor, Nick Devlin, plays a single character: Richard Hannay, an “adventurer who in a serendipitous trip to a London theatre finds himself involved in a foreign espionage caper that threatens British national security.” Lorna Duffy—who has appeared in several past Jocular productions—plays three roles, whereas all of the play’s other characters are performed by Andy Laughton and Dan Speed. “They play constables, conductors, newspaper vendors, cleaning ladies, spies, innkeepers, lingerie salesmen and more, often switching from one character to another in a span of seconds with the change of a hat. It’s really mental gymnastics for those two guys,” adds Joshua.
“Every production we learn something new, and our shows keep getting sharper, bigger, faster and funnier. Our audiences, as well, keep getting bigger,” he says proudly. “We can only hope this trend continues into the future.”
In addition to directing, Zamrycki is also the company’s producer, lighting designer, and sound engineer.
The 39 Steps
“Four actors, 130 characters in 100 hilarious minutes”
Saturday, January 18th, 9pm, Sunday, January 19th, 7pm, Saturday, January, 25th, 9pm, Sunday, January 26th, 7pm
Tickets: €12 at the door
Fundació Cultural Hostafrancs, Torre d’en Damians 6, Metro: Hostafrancs