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Brighton Fringe 2024

El Viaje

Barking Hearts Theatre

Genre: International, Music, Storytelling, Theatre

Venue: Bar Broadway


Low Down

Impressive blend of Cuban music and poignant story-telling


Barking Hearts Theatre’s production of El Viaje (The Journey) intertwines live music, singing and story-telling. It is utterly charming.

But we need to contextualise first and to do so, a lightning recap of Cuban history, at least concerning the latter half of the last century. Fulgencio Batista had been elected Cuban leader, but later suspended the constitution and effectively became the head of a military dictatorship. His secret police brutally suppressed any dissenting voice, with torture and disappearances rife. Enter Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who ran a guerilla campaign against Batista for some years, resulting in his fleeing the island on New Year’s Day 1959. Castro assumed control, but his new regime soon developed similar tendencies to Batista’s Government. As a result of years of turmoil and repression, many Cubans sought new lives overseas, with Florida a dangerous, but manageable, boat journey away.

El Viaje recounts the story of Oceana Bertino-Kavadellas’ great-grandparents and their daughter. Her great-grandfather, Alberto, was killed in Cuba in 1961, probably at the hands of the authorities. His widow, Gladys, faced the threat of arrest. She decides that she and her daughter, the performer’s grandmother (Abuela), will try to emigrate to the USA. By way of Operation Peter Pan, Abuela is sent to Miami in 1961 to share cramped quarters with cousins. Gladys manages to join her one year later, but they continue to move from place to place. Undaunted by new surroundings and any effects from El Viaje, she graduates 11 years later from Puerto Rico University and creates a charity for refugees.

The ensemble of Oceana Bertino-Kavadellas, Grace Bown and Sophie Faurie beautifully convey Abuela’s story, who was present in the audience. We enter Bar Broadway’s Studio space to find the trio in colourful attire, with musical instruments to hand. They bring a little bit of Havana to Brighton, with harmonious singing, crafted music and theatrical story-telling, sometimes moving into the realms of physical theatre. The final crescendo in particular was visceral. The performance is a triumph and the poignancy of the piece will live with the audience for some considerable time.

There is a criticism, however, albeit slightly back-handed : this production was a little under half an hour and the audience were left wanting more…more song and music, of course, but there must be moving and compelling components of Abuela’s backstory not recounted here. It is to be hoped that this simply inspirational show is redeveloped to give us more.