I arrived half an hour early, only to be told, "You're late," and ushered into a show already in full swing. But this is a show directed by Jordi Milan of Catalan company La Cubana. On that outfit's last appearance at the Edinburgh Festival in 1997, actors and apparent audience members kept – literally – leaping in and out of a film being screened above the stage, so it's reasonable to expect some kind of playfulness here as well.
And so it proves. The colourful but tacky variety evening, with numbers ranging from a samba spectacle to "Donald, Where's Your Troosers?", is in effect the "pre-show", much as another presentation might simply play an audio tape as we take our seats beforehand. (The genuinely ramshackle business of audience arrival adds to the music-hall atmosphere.) Some seven or eight minutes after the advertised start time, this bill draws to a close, and we see the down-at-heel yet committed Variety Theatre Company of Gibraltar striking their set ready to move on to their next engagement. They are slightly bemused that the audience remains in their places while this goes on, but they begin chatting to us, explaining the history and quirks of the company and of its various members, and gradually roping us in both for practical help and to get a taste of the theatrical experience. I began to regret taking an aisle seat and thus placing myself in the potential firing line for everything from flirtation by a supposedly shemale soubrette to parading in a chorine's extravagant feather headdress.
Yet in this English-language adaptation of a 1989 La Cubana show, humiliation is never the point of the audience participation. The style of the evening is all about subverting the conventional performer/spectator arrangement in a fun way, and the effect is indeed to bring us closer to this 27-strong company (played by a cast of eleven) and to the commitment to their craft which they embody. By the finale, when the company reprise the "show"'s closing number, this time in mufti except for the feathers, we can see that what drives an enterprise like this fictional Gibraltarian ensemble is a particular kind of individual and communal spirit.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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