A show about a ragtag group of Italians who come together through their combined passion for the tango to create the ultimate dance troupe should be the basis, if not for a feel-good Hollywood movie, for a superb night of dancing and theatrics. Instead, it is the basis for Napoletango, a bizarrely eccentric show which only really features two tango routines in amongst its endless parade of ramshackle attempts at physical theatre.
There is a story at work here, but as an audience member you’ll struggle to work it out, unless you purchase the programme, which sets it all out in a 3-page synopsis (the programme also eschews the performers’ biographies in favour of those of the characters they are playing. Those kooky Italians, eh). Don’t rely on the surtitles to help understand all the expository dialogue, either – whoever was driving them clearly had no idea what the characters on stage were saying, as they seemed perpetually too far ahead or behind the action to make any sense.
There are some bright points: among the 19-strong cast, David Paryla’s blind Kallas is an endearing presence throughout, and apart from the aforementioned two tango routines, the most visually thrilling scene comes from a routine where the cast are sitting or lying asleep, with sequinned handkerchiefs representing their collective sleeping exhalations. Elsewhere it’s a mess of routines which perplex and baffle – including a completely unnecessary shower scene, included seemingly only to either titillate or shock, but managing to do neither.
Worse, any point where it feels like actual tango show might suddenly emerge, butterfly-like, from the pupal mess that has preceded it results only in some other plot point dragging the show back to the inane. In particular, the invocation by the show’s matriarch of “STOP! My son wanted to tango too”, halts the show in its tracks while the dead son does a half-tango, half-tap, all-awful solo while his distraught mother flings flowers at him.
After the second act Argentine Tango – which is the undoubted highlight of the entire show – the surtitles (in a rare synchronised moment) record the female dancer as saying “Finally… I danced a tango!” We were thinking the same thing, dear. But I suspect for different reasons.
This brief stopover at the London Coliseum is the first venue on an international tour. I can’t recommend you go out of your way to see this show. Indeed, as I said on Twitter last night – Napoletango? Napoletandon’t.