Edinburgh Fringe 2018
“This is Babolin’s 13th Fringe production. Making his return to Babolin is director, Sam Plumb (The Globe, GhostWriters, YAC). Troubadour Jon Whitten himself (SOAS, Deafinitely Theatre, Blind Summit, Night Light) is in charge of composition. There’ll be text and lyrics from Richard Fredman (Babolin, Menagerie, Night Light). With producing from Sam Worboys (Gomito Theatre, Worboys Productions).”
Babolin are back with an older cast, some heavyweight direction and all of the usual unhinged material, anchored firmly in 110% committed young energy and plenty of ability. This time we have a central character locked into a narrative of regret and chained to the labels we all pin on each other and ourselves.
The show is a spectacle of anti-theatre, physical ensemble work, comedy, diverse and original music (with a few mashed up tunes you might recognise the frayed ends of) and mic’d up interactive speech. The narrative here often gives way to the set piece physicality, clownish humour and, at times, beautiful fish and well held, choreographed light sequences. Can you tell from this review so far that i’m struggling to describe Fandango? Good, that’s part of its charm – its hard to nail content. From effects pedals to ethereal wordless song, it is all packed in to create a spectacle.
At its best it is is necessarily full on, yet with an ability to transition in moments from crescendo to silence, from cruel humour to tender emotion. You may not ‘get it’ all, but that isn’t its primary intention. This is a kind of theatre-cabaret-musical-and-other-stuff show. Sometimes the sequences wear the devising process to much on the show’s sleeve – it felt a bit too designed here and there and I could feel the rehearsal and devising room too keenly, with links between sequences a little clumsy.
The performers are excellent, both individually and in ensemble. This is a team, a community on stage. The material is modern, the permission to experiment has motivated that young group to max out on energy, skill and intention while achieving poise and controlled movement and flow. Fandango can dance, it can, well fandango! And it surely does.
Quirky, yet sometimes a bit uneven in accessiblility, I noticed some audience members befuddled and bemused a little too much. I think the cast want the audience to care a lot about the deeper themes underlying the piece. If it is too confusing, that care may ebb away a bit.
Others (myself included) were wide-eyed with wonder and interest. There’s some powerful material here about the harm we do to each other when we callously label – when we utter sentences about who and what we are – too-quick phrases and call each other and ourselves names, then we sentence ouselves to those very things we utter. We can also, at any moment, rip those cursing labels away and find and make a better world.
Babolin are back again and, of course they’ve used, remade and broken the rules – I went to sleep that night with luminous fish in my drowsy vision, glad this talented troupe graced the Bedlam with their boundary-challenging presence once again.