Tall tales and lots of great laughs

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MARIACHI MAN: James Cairns starred as the title character in his one-man show ‘El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi’, Standard Bank’s Gold Ovation Award winner at last year’s National Arts Festival. It is an off-beat comedy brimming with rib-tickling humour. Picture: ROB KNOWLES
MARIACHI MAN: James Cairns starred as the title character in his one-man show ‘El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi’, Standard Bank’s Gold Ovation Award winner at last year’s National Arts Festival. It is an off-beat comedy brimming with rib-tickling humour. Picture: ROB KNOWLES

STANDING alone on a stage for just over an hour and a half, the magic of actor, script-writer and comedian James Cairns is evident as he relates his story – that of El Blanco, a man determined to become a mariachi performer.

El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi was one of only two Standard Bank Gold Ovation Award winners at the 2015 National Arts Festival, and was co-written by Cairns and Gwindion Beynon.

El Blanco (the white one) is so pale and freckled that the other children he grew up with don’t believe he could ever be a mariachi singer/musician like his grandfather. But El Blanco does manage to get into the entertainment industry in Mexico City, albeit as a contract radio jingle writer for some big companies selling anything from cigarettes to funeral policies.

One night he has an epiphany and writes episode 27 of a radio drama. He pitches this to the radio station and is immediately given a contract. But he now needs to return home and write episodes 1 through 26. Due to the success of the show El Blanco receives a call from George Clooney to visit him at his holiday home.

But El Blanco is not satisfied as he knows in his heart that he is a mariachi man and, despite a lack of talent and becoming increasingly disillusioned, he will never let the dream go.

And then one night, while walking alone through the desert, he finds himself lost and freezing cold. In an effort to find warmth he actually places his grandfather’s guitar on the fire. In a vision his grandfather visits him and tells him it is not too late, and that the guitar was not important, just belief in self. This is when El Blanco comes up with a hit song and finally becomes a true mariachi.

Cairns is a consummate performer. His ability to reproduce accents is incredible and, during one scene in the play he impersonates the many voices of his characters without a single slip.

The humour is also of a special type, subtle sometimes and, at others in your face.

Cairns’s wife, fellow actor Taryn Bennett, helps with the sound for El Blanco, a job that doesn’t usually get a mention in the review of a show but, in this case, it must be said that coordinating the timing of sounds to match Cairns’ frenetic performance was masterful.

If you get the opportunity to go watch the show (and probably anything else Cairns does) you should probably make a plan. Kenton Rotary brought the show here for just two performances over last weekend, so you might have to wait a while as Cairns will not be appearing at this year’s National Arts Festival.

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