The opening speech

The speech for the opening of this year’s Festes de la Mercè will be from: Jaume Mateu

Laughing is a very serious matter: laughter can transform the world, it’s an exportable product that might not be able to stop wars, but that can certainly mitigate their effects. And that’s something that this red-nosed Barceloní who’s really just a kid at heart and who’s giving this year's opening speech for the La Mercè knows very well.

As well as being the name of the fine sand that came from the quarries of Montjuïc - where the Teatre Grec now stands - that was used for cleaning pots and pans, Terra d’escudella was one of the first children's programmes in Catalan ever to be seen on television. One of the stars was Jaume Mateu Bullich, a young actor and clown who, in the 1970s, was yet to become Tortell Poltrona. But for the twists and turns of life, Tortell Poltrona might never have existed, as he'd started off as a student of sociology and political economics at the Institut Catòlic d’Estudis Socials de Barcelona. And a lot of people on planet Earth would have laughed a little bit less. As luck would have it, in 1974 the young Mateu was taken on by the Gran Orquesta Veracruz, where he worked as a comic singer. From there, it was just a small step to making comedy his life's work. He was only too aware that the job of making people laugh was more than just fun, it also had a theatrical and social role to play.

He came close to the character he would make his own years later while working with Claret Papiol who he introduced to audiences as one of the Poltrona Brothers. It was when he took a temporary job at Can Foix de Sarrià that he finally took the name we all know him by today. He’s used the name for this hard-to-classify character aimed at a children’s audience when performing with such giants of the genre such as Oleg Popov and Charlie Rivel. At that time, Poltrona argued that to be a clown needed to reach out to intelligent adults too. Over the years he explains, he ended up agreeing with his mentor, valuing children's ability to respond to the clowns' teasing, and transmitting the authenticity so typical of children from the circus ring.

Rivel, like the painter Joan Miró or the visual poet Joan Brossa, followed closely the proposal for the renewal of the circus arts that constituted the creation, in 1981, of the Circ Cric. Between 1984 and 1986, Mateu founded and directed the Cornellà International Clown Festival, but the creation of the CRAC (Centre de Recerca de les Arts del Circ) in 1995 also speaks volumes about his attitude and his understanding of the circus. This could only be achieved by someone who takes humour with the utmost seriousness, someone who understands that the clown has an intimate relationship with the world beneath his feet. Hence his role as the ideologue and driving force behind the Andorra Clown Festival, a forum dedicated to ensuring that women have the role that corresponds to them in the world of clowns. No doubt you'll often have seen his partner and co-founder of Circ Cric Montserrat Trias, playing the carablanca in his shows, as Titat Craconi. She played a crucial role as co-founder of Clowns without Borders, in 1993. It was the year after the Barcelona Olympic Games, but also the year after the Bosnian war, an event that changed the way Barcelona's citizens saw the world and made many people, like Jaume Mateu himself, want to transform the world they lived in. Tortell Poltrona donned a red nose and persuaded a whole bunch of clowns to work with him, taking them on his travels to conflict areas halfway around the world, where children desperately needed that very special vitamin that could only be obtained from truly heartfelt laughter. The National Circus Prize awarded by the INAEM in 2013 (one of the very many highly prestigious awards that Mateu has received) was awarded in recognition of his achievements during his career, and with a special mention for his solidarity work. A few years earlier, in 2005, together with Montserrat Trias he had been awarded the National Culture Prize by the Generalitat de Catalunya for his work with Circ Cric.

Montserrat Trias has been an essential part of Jaume Mateu's personal and professional life. His children – Roc, Blaï and Luara, who is also a clown – have also dedicated their lives to the circus. Blaï Mateu and his French partner, Camille Decourtye, have created a different kind of circus, full of the poetry of the Baro d’Evel. They put together the opening show for a Grec overshadowed by the pandemic. Grandpa was invited to join in, and the clown's performance ended up being one of the most moving, funny and sincere contributions to a show that was pure magic and that became a collective catharsis. Que bèstia! was the title of the show that Tortell Poltrona had premièred during the 2019 Temporada Alta, but at the opening night at the Teatre Grec it also became a catchphrase repeated again and again by the clown under the Montjuïc sky. Today, many people overwhelmed by a reality that seems like fiction still can't get these two words out of their heads. Que bèstia!”, said Tortell Poltrona. Que bèstia!”, we all keep on saying.