El Blanco spins a yarn in storytelling feat

James Cairns plays a spirited mariachi during his solo performance in El Blanco. Photo: Emily Stander/Cue

Remember when you used to sit and talk with your grandparents, listening to their crazy, near-unbelievable stories about what happened in their lives? Those times come rushing back to you as you step into the world of El Blanco – a world where one man discovers what he really wants, and finds his own truth through telling many, many lies.

James Cairns brings the true meaning to ‘one-man-show’ in this dynamic, bombastic, and occasionally tear-jerking performance. El Blanco tells the story of a child with a dream to be a mariachi, just like his grandfather. He travels with the audience through his downfall into writing jingles and his unhappiness about what he has done in his adult life.

He tells stories within stories: about meeting George Clooney; about becoming a huge success with his crime-drama “El Mosquito”. He tells stories in such a compelling manner that it is impossible to tell whether or not they are lies, and you sit there enthralled in the life that may or may not have been.

“The mountain of absolute bullsh*t that [El Blanco] spouts convincingly is a testament to the fact that a story is just a story, and why sometimes to let a fact just be, because you don’t want to diminish it by telling a story – there is a lot to be said for that,” Cairns explains. In connection with the theme for National Arts Festival – voices and silences – Cairns says that something comedy must grapple with is the fact that a lot can be said with silence as well.

Themes tend to be “very serious”, he explains, and that can clash with the idea of producing a comedy show within that specific theme. El Blanco does a good job of that, however, by bringing a range of emotions and modes of storytelling to the audience. There are songs, a multitude of interesting characters, and mind-boggling plot twists and turns that you never really saw coming. Because what is real, anyway?

James Cairns performs as El Blanco with his ukelele. Photo: Emily Stander/Cue

El Blanco was also at the Festival in 2017. Compared to that time, Cairns says that he appreciates the venue this year, Princess Alice Hall, a lot more than the one last year. “Every show has a different energy by virtue of who is there,” says Cairns. “I don’t pretend that the audience is not there…and because I like to acknowledge the audience, the show depends entirely on the audience for its vibe” – and Princess Alice Hall offers a lot more. As a viewer, I recognised and enjoyed Cairns’ acknowledgement of my presence.

It meant that it really felt like El Blanco had arrived here just to tell me a story, and Cairns’ captivating performance absolutely enhanced my feeling of significance as a member of the audience. From the beginning of the show, where we started off with the dream of a child and how he takes hold of his identity, to the very last moment where El Blanco finds truth in a desert alone; this show is definitely a must-see for the festival-goer who enjoys a great yarn.

El Blanco will be showing every day at 13:30 at the Princess Alice Hall until 2 July. Be sure to book your tickets now.

By Emily Stander