It’s no surprise I’m hearing influential voices proclaiming El Blanco as one of the highlights of the Festival. A courageous solo performance by James Cairns, the high-energy hour of stories and song runs the audience through the full range of emotions.
James Cairns in El Blanco. Photo: CuePix / Jane Berg
As usual, Gwydion Beynon’s script is polished, tight and thoroughly entertaining. They make a powerful team I hope we’ll see more of.
El Blanco’s struggle, mostly with himself, to earn the title of Mariachi is masterfully presented through music and storytelling, on a captivating minimalist set. “Stories are songs for people who cannot sing,” is one of El Blanco’s gems. “And songs are stories for those who can.”
El Blanco must overcome his belief that he can do neither. The tale leads us through a chain of false epiphanies which only lead him back into self-doubt. At the outset, El Blanco promises that “there will be song, there will be stories and there will be many lies”. As we discover, lies often reveal truths that would otherwise remain unspoken. Cairns’ singing and playing of a variety of guitars is suitably rough though obviously skilful, striking the right tone for the narrative.
At the start of the performance, I wonder how a pale Englishman will manage to portray a Mexican mariachi, in both spoken word and song. I needn’t have worried. Cairns says he practiced his accent by downloading hours of YouTube videos. Whatever he did, it worked well enough. His whiteness is a key part of the story, so no problem there.
More importantly, his performance is confident, convincing and, most importantly, buckets of fun. I decided to see El Blanco on the strength of James Cairns’s outstanding portrayal of Philip in the Snow Goose. Despite the two being very different performances, Cairns confirms his dramatic range and versatility, so I was not disappointed.
Clearly I was not alone, judging by the standing ovation awarded to this performance by a sizable chunk of the audience.
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