“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” – Peter Brook, The Empty Space.
On a rooftop in Havana, Cuba a man is hanging out washing and chatting with us, his neighbours, introducing us to each other.
He climbs down using a walking stick but there are little flashes of vigour in his step. When he knocks down a box containing memorabilia and a pair of dance shoes he taps into the past.
In 1961 the Wyoming Wonder was a local tap-dancing sensation but was less of phenomena at Carnegie Hall, received by the New York critics with a dismissive “You can take the boy out of the country …”.
Time has moved on since he had been taught by his grandmother, part of Vaudeville history amongst bizarre speciality acts including boxing cats. The action movies have left little space for dancing, although she had worked with Donald O'Connor of Singing in the Rain fame, only to have him nail her shoes to the floor.
We follow ever shifting scenes through LA dance studios, Chicago pool halls and to the cafes of Cuba, where, with a revolution in full swing, he finds himself somewhat trapped and eschewing celebrity, forgotten. Overlooked that is until the CIA, having failed in 638 attempts to get rid of Fidel Castro and fearing another Missile Crisis, decides he must have stories to tell.
With gentle pace the simple story is engagingly told while the stage design provides vibrant images. There is an inventiveness that pervades the whole piece, from design to slightly outlandish plot, even if some is grounded in real characters and events. Props are re-used and re-purposed with a very “make do and mend” Cuban outlook. Objects transform and as suitcases are opened, they landmark the place and date as we journey on by model car through a shadow landscape to a vintage soundtrack. A suitcase, apron and washcloth become a miniature bed, as Anglepoise lamps are operated with taps of outstretched fingers and toes.
As one might expect from a director who crosses stylistic boundaries it’s a very different show from Inflatable Space (2019), but it has a welcoming warmth as delightful as the breeze on old Havana’s Malecón.
Show Times: 2 -28 (not 14) August 2023 at 4.30pm.
Tickets: £14 (£13) to £16 (£15).