Give our regards to Broadway, and our thanks to the ancient greeks. Theatres across the Algarve have much to offer, including a special personality.

In the early part of the 6th century BC, a festival took place in the Greek city of Dionysia. The festival was ordered by the ruler, Pisistratus, to honour Dionysus, the God of Wine and Fertility. It became an annual event and comprised of processions of groups called choros who would sing hymns in honour of their favourite God. They were structured performances that told stories from Greek history and then developed into competitions.

In 53BC, a wandering bard called Thespis emerged on a cart and recited the legends in poetic form engaging in a dialogue with the choros becoming, in effect, the first ‘actor’. He won the prize, the first theatrical award, and his name has given us the term ‘Thespian’.

As performances developed, so did the need for a place where an audience could gather. The early theatres were on hillsides. but soon proper stone amphitheatres were built. The stage areas were round to allow the choros to dance; these were called orchestras. The tiers of stone seats may have been uncomfortable for the audience, but they were cleverly designed with sound projection in mind so that performances could be heard clearly.

The expansion of the Roman republic into Grecian territories and the subsequent foundation of the Roman Empire brought theatre to Europe, the Middle East, parts of Asia and northern Africa. Roman theatre was more varied than its Greek predecessor with the demand shifting from drama to broader entertainment which led to the creation of ‘tragedies’ and ‘comedies’. The greatest exponents of these writings were Titus Plautus and Trentius Afer.

Theatre in western Europe practically died out during the Dark Ages but re-appeared during during the Renaissance when the Church created liturgical drama to bring biblical stories to life; the torments and the suffering of saints proved to be particularly popular.

In Iberia, processional plays brought religious performances to a greater audience that could not be entertained in the confines of a theatre. Each scene was performed on an individual cart with its own props that moved through a town, reaching a succession of audiences. These plays were called auto sacramentales and flourished right up to the end of the 17th century.

The dramatist Gil Vicente (1465-1537), who wrote in both Portuguese and Spanish, was considered chief amongst writers of Auto and was sometimes called the Portuguese Plautus and often referred to as the Father of Portuguese Drama.

What to expect

Portugal possesses a fine pedigree in literature, with writers, poets and playrights who are recognised and respected across the world. It is also fortunate to have a grand selection of theatres.

Here in the south of the country there are many great venues, some grand, some quirky, situated in towns from east to west, that host all kinds of live productions.

There is an intimate venue next to the Igreja Misericordia in Tavira that specialises in live Fado performances. Fado com História can accommodate up to 45 people and the décor of the room evokes the quintessential atmosphere of Fado.The group presents recitals with vocal performances accompanied by Portuguese and classical guitar. Recitals are daily, Monday to Saturday. 966 620 877 for details.

On the waterside of the railway just before Faro Station, on Estrada Passeio Riberinho, is a unique performance space called Casa das Virtudes. The venue is in an old riverside warehouse and contains a bar, a café and, of course, a stage where the resident entertainers present a a variety of acts with Novo Circo being the highlight. Workshops where one can learn aspects of acrobatics and Arte Plástica are offered. There are regular live music sessions and practice rooms to rent. 926 636974.

Teatro das Figuras is the largest theatre in Algarve and is a landmark on the road into Faro. It was designed by the award-winning architect Gonçalo Byrne whose many works include the Lisbon Harbour control tower near Belém, and the restoration of the centuries-old Teatro Thalia, also in Lisbon. The 782 seater theatre at Figuras has a fairly full calendar this winter which will hopefully include the annual production of The Nutcracker. In the meantime, currently scheduled are a number of productions in October aimed at younger audiences: O Melhor Show Infantil and Roll Over Beethoven. A workshop entitled Oficina Cria a tu Beat will be held on 20, 22, 27 and 29 October to teach young people how to ‘build’ instruments of all genres, using state-of-the-art software. Check for Covid restrictions.

In 1951, a group of cinephiles in São Brás de Alportel formed a group calling themselves Unidos whose objective it was to build a dedicated cinema/ theatre in the town. The building was inaugurated on 21 December 1952 with a showing of Duas Causas, a romantic comedy that featured local actress Mariana Vilar. The interior space can seat 498 spectators with a movable stage. Renovated in 2018, the exterior of the building has a cinematic design but curiously it also resembles a chapel complete with a Cross on its right hand elevation. The signage on this corner announcing SBras Cine Teatro may have been designed to appease the clergy at the time who were concerned about ‘sinful movies’. The building is under the care of the Câmara – – see page 10 for more of what this town has to offer, theatre aside.

Just one glance at the Cine-Teatro Louletana , on a corner of Loulé’s main Avenida, with all its sumptuous yellow and ochre colours makes you want to step inside and see what else this beautiful building has to offer. The theatre hosted 39,000 audience members in 2019 and for a space that holds 310 seats, that’s quite a feat.

Inaugurated in 1925, its founders had specific rules. “Construir um teatro e suas dependéncias. A respetiva exploração em todas as suas manifestações de are dramática, lírica, cinematográfica,concertos musicais e em tudo o mais que lhe é próprio, exceto comícios políticos”. (According to Google: “Build a theatre and its dependencies. The respective exploration in all its manifestations of dramatic, lyrical, cinematographic, musical concerts and in everything else that belongs to him, except political rallies”.)

The ‘exception of political rallies’ is interesting considering the upheavals in Europe at the time. Nevertheless, this beautiful theatre has entertained hundreds of thousands of the population since its foundation. Performances this year at the height of the pandemic were presented online and amassed a staggering 140,000 views which proves the popularity of homegrown artists. Their winter programme began in September and will run into December. Details are on the cineteatrolouletana FaceBook page.

It is difficult in this peculiar year to emphasise the importance of theatre in our lives. The artists, technicians and producers are waiting in the wings but the audience is missing. Perhaps we can take a little bit of inspiration from the most beautiful small theatre in Europe, right here in Faro, Teatro Lethes. Named after one of the five rivers of the Greek Underworld, it was believed that to drink from the river before being reincarnated made you forget everything thus enabling you to pass into a new and better life. Perhaps there is lesson to ponder from that.

Words: Brian Redmond

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