Barnie Duncan in Calypso Nights | Edinburgh Fringe 2014

It’s almost 11pm and for some folk the party is just about to start.

A microphone, mobile disco set-up, two turntables and ruffled sleeves – actually that’s ruffled sleeves from another planet – a thick Latino accent and charisma oozing from every shake of the eyebrows: that’s Kiwi clown Barnie Duncan or, as he’s better known at the Edinburgh Fringe, DJ Juan Vesuvius.

On the surface Calypso Nights may seem like an opportunity to improve your Spanish, maybe learn the difference between the Mexican and Venezuelan flag, have a hippie huggle (halfway between a hug and a cuddle), listen to some retro tunes and giggle at cunnilingus references. And you can do all that and walk away happy. But the beauty of Calypso Nights is that it does a lot more.

This is a smart, subversive show challenging not just what we think we know but what we expect from a theatre show. Blurring the line between solo comedy and theatre, the performance is a beautiful mash-up of Latin tunes, an introduction to the maracas and soca, and a clever parody of how Latinos behave (and are expected to behave), especially within an Anglo-context.

The show begins with Duncan introducing himself in rapid-fire Spanish, only pausing when he discovers the majority of his audience can only respond with the rather shy ‘si’ to his stream of questions. And so the show rewinds, quite literally with Duncan moving through all the motions he’d just performed, and begins again in English.

It’s a fantastic start because not only was Duncan successful in holding the audience’s attention for nearly fifteen minutes while he gabbled in Spanish but linguistic barriers and the lack thereof suddenly became very apparent – whether you’re in the theatre or in a Latin club.

In all honesty there’s not an awful lot of Calypso music (again, that’s not the point) but there is Kate Bush, a lot of maraca shaking and cheesy lyrics that will have you wondering where is the difference between the ridiculous and the ridicule?

Satirical in subject, the content meanders through socio commentary, dips into political comedy (with some slightly uncomfortable moments about North Korea) and is ultimately, fresh and celebratory.

Duncan’s genius lies in the fact that his cheeky and confident portrayal goes beyond the politics of representation – he knows the stereotypes and he puts them front and centre stage with aplomb.

If you’re looking for a masterclass in Latin culture (would you really look for your future spouse in a nightclub?) then this isn’t quite the place to be but if you are eager to have an evening of fun alongside a very clever Kiwi then follow this show wherever it’s goes.

#edinburgh #theatre #fringe #kiwi #barnieduncan