Theater, Portuguese

   There are two types of theater in Portugal: classical or "serious" theater and light theater, or the Theater of Review, largely the Revistas de Lisboa (Lisbon Reviews). Modern theater, mostly but not exclusively centered in Lisbon, experienced an unfortunate impact from official censorship during the Estado Novo (1926-74). Following laws passed in 1927, the government decreed that, as a cultural activity, any theatrical presentations that were judged "offensive in law, in morality and in decent customs" were prohibited. One consequence that derived from the risk of prohibition was that directors and playwrights began to practice self-censorship. This discouraged liberal and experimental theatrical work, weakened commercial investment in theater, and made employment in much theater a risky business, with indifferent public support.
   Despite these political obstacles and the usual risks and difficulties of producing live theater in competition first with emerging cinema and then with television (which began in any case only after 1957), some good theatrical work flourished. Two of the century's greatest repertory actresses, Amélia Rey-Colaço (1898-1990) and Maria Matos (1890-1962), put together talented acting companies and performed well-received classical theater. Two periods witnessed a brief diminution of censorship: following World War II (1945-47) and during Prime Minister Marcello Caetano's government (1968-74). Although Portuguese playwrights also produced comedies and dramas, some of the best productions reached the stage under the authorship of foreign playwrights: Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Miller, and others.
   A major new phase of Portuguese serious theater began in the 1960s, with the staging of challenging plays by playwrights José Cardoso Pires, Luis Sttau Monteiro, and Bernardo Santareno. Since the Revolution of 25 April 1974, more funds for experimental theater have become available, and government censorship ceased. As in so much of Western European theater, however, the general public tended to favor not plays with serious content but techno-hits that featured foreign imports, including musicals, or homegrown musicals on familiar themes. Nevertheless, after 1974, the theater scene was enlivened, not only in Lisbon, but also in Oporto, Coimbra, and other cities.
   The Theater of Review, or light theater, was introduced to Portugal in the 19th century and was based largely on French models. Adapted to the Portuguese scene, the Lisbon reviews featured pageantry, costume, comic skits, music (including the ever popular fado), dance, and slapstick humor and satire. Despite censorship, its heyday occurred actually during the Estado Novo, before 1968. Of all the performing arts, the Lisbon reviews enjoyed the greatest freedom from official political censorship. Certain periods featured more limited censorship, as cited earlier (1945-47 and 1968-74). The main venue of the Theater of Review was located in central Lisbon's Parque Mayer, an amusement park that featured four review theaters: Maria Vitória, Variedades, Capitólio, and ABC.
   Many actors and stage designers, as well as some musicians, served their apprenticeship in the Lisbon reviews before they moved into film and television. Noted fado singers, the fadistas, and composers plied their trade in Parque Mayer and built popular followings. The subjects of the reviews, often with provocative titles, varied greatly and followed contemporary social, economic, and even political fashion and trends, but audiences especially liked satire directed against convention and custom. If political satire was not passed by the censor in the press or on television, sometimes the Lisbon reviews, by the use of indirection and allegory, could get by with subtle critiques of some personalities in politics and society. A humorous stereotyping of customs of "the people," usually conceived of as Lisbon street people or naive "country bumpkins," was also popular. To a much greater degree than in classical, serious theater, the Lisbon review audiences steadily supported this form of public presentation. But the zenith of this form of theater had been passed by the late 1960s as audiences dwindled, production expenses rose, and film and television offered competition.
   The hopes that governance under Prime Minister Marcello Caetano would bring a new season of freedom of expression in the light theater or serious theater were dashed by 1970-71, as censorship again bore down. With revolution in the offing, change was in the air, and could be observed in a change of review show title. A Lisbon review show title on the eve of the Revolution of 25 April 1974, was altered from: 'To See, to Hear . . . and Be Quiet" to the suggestive, "To See, to Hear . . . and to Talk." The review theater experienced several difficult years after 1980, and virtually ceased to exist in Parque Mayer. In the late 1990s, nevertheless, this traditional form of entertainment underwent a gradual revival. Audiences again began to troop to renovated theater space in the amusement park to enjoy once again new lively and humorous reviews, cast for a new century and applied to Portugal today.
   See also Literature; Vicente, Gil.

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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