Spain’s notorious ‘Wolfpack’ sexual assault is played out on stage

Hyper-realist theatre production uses original courtroom transcripts

A scene from the Kamikaze theatre company’s play about the notorious sexual assault of a young woman in Pamplona in 2016. Photograph: Vanessa Rábade

A scene from the Kamikaze theatre company’s play about the notorious sexual assault of a young woman in Pamplona in 2016. Photograph: Vanessa Rábade

 

A few days ago, graffiti was sprayed on the outside of the Pavón theatre in Madrid, reading: “F**k those who cash in on trauma”. The act of vandalism was a protest against the Kamikaze theatre company, which was preparing to perform a play dealing with one of the most explosive and publicised real-life dramas Spain has witnessed in recent years.

Last April, five men from Andalucía who called themselves La Manada (or “the Wolfpack”) were found guilty of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman in the northern city of Pamplona during its annual festival in the summer of 2016. The court found that the men had offered to help the girl find her car in the early hours of the morning but instead led her to a quiet doorway where they proceeded to have non-consensual sex with her, recording the attack on a mobile phone.

The defendants were given nine-year jail sentences which they are now appealing. However, to the outrage of many Spaniards, they were not found guilty of rape, but “sexual abuse” due to the court’s interpretation of Spain’s peculiar law covering this kind of assault. The case triggered a media frenzy, a government call for the law to be reformed and a wave of street demonstrations against the sentence.

Court testimonies

Now, the Kamikaze company is retelling the Manada story, using excerpts of real-life courtroom dialogue to give a harrowing recreation of the assault itself and the legal fallout. The play, Jauría (or “Pack”), which has opened in the capital this week, was written by Jordi Casanovas, using only transcripts of court testimonies.

“The fact that it’s literal means that the spectator has no way out,” the play’s director, Miguel del Arco, said at a press conference in the theatre this week.

“Often, when you see a performance, you can tell yourself ‘this is just theatre’. This production is just theatre, obviously, but there is something there that reminds you that this actually happened and that there is not a word of it that is fictional, that was not spoken during the trial.”

The vérité production has been an unusual challenge for the cast, who switch roles throughout. The actors playing the five accused men also take on the roles of five deliberating magistrates; María Hervás, playing the victim of the assault whose private life was picked over by the media and defence lawyers, also plays a stern prosecutor.

“It was a very tough, emotionally difficult process, but from the first day of rehearsals I felt absolute trust,” Hervás said. “It was very comforting to face up to this pain all of us together – them as men, myself as a woman. It was very painful but very cathartic.”

She added: “This process has really changed me as a person and I think it’s changed all of us.”

Standing ovation

Despite a certain amount of controversy surrounding the production, as the graffiti incident suggests, Jauría has been well received. At Wednesday’s opening night in Madrid a full house gave it a standing ovation. Hervás, emotionally wrung out by her performance, was in tears as the actors took their curtain call.

Del Arco sees the production as part of a necessary drive to rid Spain of what he describes as a “toxic masculinity” that still pervades, despite major strides towards gender equality in recent decades.

He points out that the accused in the case vehemently defended their actions because they were convinced they had done nothing wrong.

“And that is what makes this such a conflictive, complex case,” he says. “Because they are so impregnated with this toxic masculinity that they are unable to acknowledge that what happened should never have happened.”

Gender issues have moved to the centre of national politics recently.  The far-right Vox party has campaigned against what it sees as extremist feminism while harking back to a more old-fashioned vision of Spanish masculinity, complete with bullfighting and hunting.

That message has been echoed elsewhere. In recent days, an ultra-conservative Catholic organisation, Hazte Oir, has hired a bus to drive around different cities with the slogan “StopFeminazis” painted on the side next to a picture of Adolf Hitler.

Against the backdrop of a divided gender debate, Spain will today mark International Women’s Day with dozens of demonstrations and a women’s strike backed by the Socialist government.

Del Marco is determined that younger Spaniards should see the play and the company has already performed it before 16-to-18-year-olds in the northern city of Avilés. There will be weekly performances for schoolchildren in Madrid.

“The next day [the children] didn’t stop talking about it, and about sexual assault and toxic masculinity,” said Del Arco of the Avilés performance. “I think it’s wonderful that they should talk like that, because it’s the kids that will have to change sexist attitudes in society.”

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