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Saturday, July 4, 2015


(Reviews from the artSMart team currently in Grahamstown at the 2015 National Arts Festival) 

Virtuoso, spell-binding, master class in storytelling. (Review by Keith Millar)

The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown always delivers some very special moments. Having an early lunch at a pop-up eatery under the enormous trees in the quadrangle of the venerable Victoria Girls School, and just having witnessed a virtuoso, spell-binding, master class in storytelling by the remarkable James Cairns is just such a moment.

El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi is the latest offering from Gwndion Beynon who was the co-writer of the award winning production, The Epicene Butcher.

It is a marvellous script, which is delightfully conceived, very clever, very creative and very witty. It tells the story of El Blanco – The White One. His life ambition is to become a Mariachi folk singer/guitarist, just like his grandfather. Unfortunately, he does not have the talent and life seems to throw him more than few curved balls. There are many references to the power of storytelling, and ultimately the message is that life is all about self-discovery.

James Cairns is captivating in the role of El Blanco. He starts off by telling his audience “there will be songs, there will be stories, and there will be many lies” – and boy, does he deliver.

He starts off by telling his own whacky version of the creation of the universe. He then tells of moving to Mexico City and becoming a radio jingle writer (a sell-out, as he calls it). He then becomes a successful writer of a smash hit radio drama and ends up wining and dining with George Clooney. Finally, he wanders the desert at night trying to write a hit song and become a Mariachi. But, is it all true, or is it a lie?

Cairns shows considerable talent for voices and accents. At times, he is plays up to five characters interacting with each other in the same scene, and he carries it off. His comedy timing and delivery is superb. On top of it all, he can sing and play guitar. It is a dazzling performance from a very skilled entertainer.

In fact, Cairns must be the busiest actor on the fringe at the Festival this year. He is playing major roles in four productions over the 10 days.

Also of note in El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi is the excellent and extensive use of sound effects, and the simple but very effective lighting design. The technical delivery of these aspects was absolutely spot on.

El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi can be seen for the duration of the festival at the Glennie Hall at 11h00. - Keith Millar

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