‘There will be song, there will be stories and there will be many lies.” This is what James Cairns, as El Blanco, guarantees with his award-winning one-man stage production, El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi.
In a chat with Tonight, Cairns reveals how he came to be involved in this show.
He said: “Gwydion Beynon and I had been threatening to work with each other for some time because we both regarded each other’s output highly. We bumped into each other one drunken night at the end of the National Arts Festival in 2014 and promised to make a solo show that was a Western, contained songs and had a (only mildly) happy ending. The rest is history.”
Cairns continued: “El Blanco was our first collaboration, but there will be more because he’s actually rather good. It’s unusual to find a writer as classically trained and, at the same time, with their finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary existence. Gwydion is one such writer. He understands writing in ways unknown to us lesser mortals.”
It goes without saying the combined talents of these two makes them a powerful duo.
Now Cairns is no novice to the stage. On the appeal of this particular piece, he noted: “The thing about El Blanco is that it operates on a very frivolous level with jokes and songs while, at the same time, having very strong, deep bones. This is a huge safety net for me as the performer, because I know that the script is robust. I can mess with it and put it through the wringer and it stands up under all the punishment.”
As for how he prepared for this role, he said: “The only research that I did was to read a bunch of Elmore Leonard westerns. They ended up having nothing to do with the piece at all. I also learned some Spanish, which we also dumped, because almost nobody in the audience speaks Spanish, this being South Africa.”
He says: “The story is essentially a tale of lost dreams rekindled. A man who wanted more than anything to be a great mariachi is given the chance to try once again. It speaks to that element in all of us that wonders if our lives couldn’t have been different or better than they have been.”
The set and costume is minimal. Interestingly, this production was also invited on a full bursary to the Brighton Fringe Festival.
He recalls: “Julian Caddy, the director of the Brighton Fringe, saw EL Blanco at our National Arts Festival and invited us over with the Pebble Trust’s bursary fund. It was great to be able to take El Blanco and another solo show, Dirt, written by Nick Warren, to a UK audience. It is never a bad idea to perform in front of international audiences, because you’ll learn something. It’s also great to be given the opportunity to work in other countries. It’s the only way that you really get to know the people in ways that tourism wouldn’t allow.”
Lastly, what else are you currently busy with or will be working on?
“At the Assitej world congress in May, our company Contagious will be in Cape Town again with Making Mandela, a show about the boyhood and youth of Nelson Mandela. At the National Arts Festival, we have three shows, Shel Silverstein’s The Devil and Billy Markham, a solo improv show James Cairns Against Humanity and El Blanco again.
“In Joburg, we have an exciting partnership with the Venue at Hyde Park in the making. We will also be at the Hilton Festival in Pietermaritzburg in September, with some of the above shows and back at Theatre on the Square for Old Man and the Sea in the second half of this year. There might also be an appearance or two in Cape Town towards the end of the year. Busy-busy.”
Don’t miss James Cairns in El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi at Auto & General Theatre on the Square from March 21 to April 8.