Apparently when the performers of Napoletango flew into Britain their luggage was lost in transit. Perhaps this explains the distinct lack of clothing in this eclectic show at the London Coliseum…
Most of the time, this bunch of exhibitionist Italians parade around the stage in their underwear: Brazilian knickers and lacy bras for the women, disturbingly baggy pants for the men. The women have a penchant for fondling their own bosoms, the men happily shake their booty as though standing in one’s pants on the stage of the London Coliseum is a liberating experience (I’ve never done it; perhaps it is). At one point the whole cast – there are 19 of them – strip completely and enjoy a communal shower, jumping with orgiastic joy at their nakedness.
There are moments in this job when I think I have entered a theatrical parallel universe. There was the time a giant chicken descended from the roof of an auditorium while the cast sung Boney M (that was legendary musical Daddy Cool) and the time I watched Peter Pan teach the audience to say ‘I believe in fairies’ in Spanish (the equally legendary Peter Pan El Musical). Napoletango is one of those, an experience so unique and, at times, bizarre, that I feel I am unlikely to witness anything quite like it ever again.
So what it is? Napoletango tells the story of the Incoronato family from Naples, who became famous as a travelling Tango troupe in the Neapolitan region of Italy, performing at local weddings and festivities. Invited for the first time to perform in a theatre, the group prepares for the big event. This flurry of activity – from recruiting new dancers to rehearsing to putting musicians through their paces – is staged in Italian, with sporadic English surtitles. However it doesn’t seem important to follow them, and given the unique happenings on stage it seems wiser to keep your eyes on that.
There is, surprisingly, little in the way of Tango dancing in Napoletango. Instead the show is based around a kind of physical comedy which has the group racing around the stage like a bunch of kids at a children’s party who have eaten too many sherbet dib-dabs. This exuberant nature manifests in unusual ways. At one point the ladies strip to bikinis and wigs and dance to what sounds like a prime piece of Euro-pop. Why, you ask? That, I can’t answer.
There are lots of questions that spring to mind on leaving the Coliseum. But one is not ‘how happy are the performers to be playing at this prestigious London venue?’ Judging by the tears in the eyes at the curtain call I have never seen a group of people so pleased to have pranced around a London stage in their underwear. Maybe I should try it.