The Madrid of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Madrid from Centro Centro

The musical version of Pedro Almodóvar’s film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown has just opened at the Playhouse Theatre in London. I clearly remember going to see the film in Madrid when it came out in March 1988 and in the nearly 27 years – can that be right? – since then I have often been reminded of scenes from it while walking around the city.

Heading up the smart Calle Almagro a few weeks ago, I stopped to look at number 38, which features in the film as the family home of Carlos, played by a very young Antonio Banderas. This elegant apartment building with an ochre façade is the address where Pepa, played by Carmen Maura, ends up after following the taxi carrying Carlos’s loopy mother Lucia across the city. Pepa has had a long relationship with Iván, Lucía’s husband. He is in the process of running off with someone else, but Pepa has just found out she’s pregnant…

It all gets rather complicated, with lots of calls from phone boxes, messages left on answer machines and notes left on doors. There were no mobiles back then of course, but I think the communication problems would still happen even with all today’s technology; it would just be a trail of unheard voicemails, texts sent to the wrong number and unread WhatsApp messages.

Pepa, played by Tamsin Grieg in the new musical, lives in a rather splendid penthouse flat at Calle Montalbán 7, in the very chic Jerónimos area between the Prado museum and the Retiro park. I happened to walk past that address recently too, on my way to the Museum of Decorative Arts, which is on the opposite side of the street. The flat has a huge terrace filled with plants, where Pepa keeps ducks, chickens and rabbits too, in an attempt to create an urban oasis. The views across the city  are of course spectacular, taking in quite a few of Madrid’s signature architectural features, such as the dome of the Metrópolis building, at the point where the Calle Alcalá and the Gran Vía meet, the Unión y El Fénix building, the Círculo de Bellas Artes and the huge concrete mass of the Telefónica headquarters with its clocktower – the dial of the clock was red until last year, when Telefónica changed it to blue.

I’m sure this skyline is recreated in the stage version, but if you want to see it for yourself, just go up to the roof of the Círculo de Bellas Artes, where there is a bar and restaurant in summer, or to the observation deck or terrace bar of Centro Centro, the cultural centre which now occupies part of the Palacio de Comunicaciones, the ostentatious former main post office on the Plaza de Cibeles, just down the road from Pepa’s penthouse.

At the beginning of the film, Pepa wants to rent her flat and move somewhere smaller, but after all the frenetic events, she decides at the end to stay put. Gazing across the night skyline with Rossy de Palma, she simply says, “I love the views”.

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