Manuelita Underbelly, Cowgate

Manuela Saenz was a revolutionary during the South American Wars of Independence in the 1820s and she was also the lover of the great Simon Bolivar, “the Liberator”. Or rather, as she takes pains to tell us from the outset, he was her lover as after all she was the married one. Despite her incredibly interesting life, her bravery and her achievements, she appears to have been airbrushed out of the history books of the time. Or perhaps it is because of all these things that she has been ignored – she did not fit the accepted view of women in society “I have been called many names in my life : La Saenz, that Saenz woman, trouble-maker, whore, ramera, ñapanga…the list goes on, but I have always preferred, Manuelita.”

This one woman show, written and performed by Tamsin Clarke, is the opportunity to tell Manuelita’s story and bring her back into the limelight she deserves. She was the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish army officer and an Ecuadorian mother. Brought up by nuns in a convent in Quito, she shocked and scandalised society by having sneaking out at night to conduct an affair with an officer at the age of 17. Her father arranged for her to marry a much older man, an English doctor called Thorne, in the hope that this would settle her down. Instead, she increased her involvement in the activities of the revolutionaries and came to the attention of Bolivar. She left her husband and followed the rebel army, fighting in the conflict and rising to the rank of Colonel. When the armed struggle came to an end, Bolivar’s enemies tried to assassinate him and, after Manuelita saved his life one night from one of these attempts on his life, she became known as “the liberator of the liberator”.

This is not a dry recounting of events – Clarke brings Manuelita to life in a passionate and physical performance using only a chair and a saddle bag of minimal props to recreate the story. She engages us in the drama – we become the conspirators passing secrets, we applaud the successes of the rebel army, a clearly delighted man in the front row takes the part of her lover Bolivar, another her husband. We are charmed by her and on her side all the way. And, to cap it all, we have the wonderful Colombian singer and guitarist, Camilo Menjura, providing an added authentic South American flavour.

Irene Brownlee