“Do not expect to understand the text or to follow a linear story,” warns a programme note for Guiliano De Capua’s physical theatre adaptation of Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla’s 1968 tango opera, though it puts lack of comprehension down to insider references and a plot that shifts between reality and reminiscence.
The fact that it’s sung in Spanish (unless, of course, you speak Spanish) also doesn’t help. The only words I caught were those of the titles – so, yep, it’s about someone named Maria who’s from Buenos Aires. Spanish-speaking or not, you should definitely get there a few minutes early to grab a programme, which briefly explains the 17 tableaux comprised in the show – as well as that Maria is actually a symbol for tango, the musical soul of Buenos Aires.
While the language barrier causes frustration, it doesn’t take away from the show’s myriad sensuous pleasures – with music care of an onstage three-piece band; arresting visuals (a man on stilts wears a crown of bulbs and a string of fairy lights on his penis); the scents of coffee, pepper and garlic wafting over the stalls; and some great bursts of tango and song, to name but a few.
Maria de Buenos Aires would be ideal for a BITE programme slot at the Barbican – and even better if they invested in some surtitles.