The ¡Viva! Festival in Manchester has grown to become the UK’s largest celebration of Spanish and Latin American culture. For its 25th year, HOME along with Acción Cultural Española’s Programme for the Internationalisation of Spanish Culture (PICE) have commissioned contemporary Spanish theatre company, Señor Serrano to produce a new headlining show, Kingdom.
Regulars to the festival may remember the company’s award-winning, Birdie, a response to the refugee and migrant crisis, which was staged as part of the 2016 festival.
Kingdom takes a similar eclectic approach, combining video, performance, scale models, dance, objects and live music. This time the company’s gaze turns to capitalism and consumerism with a surreal focus on the banana.
It starts with the five performers – Diego Anido, Pablo Rosal, Wang Ping-Hsiang, David Muñiz and Nico Roig – reminding us in Spanish, Chinese and English how much the world has progressed in recent decades and yet there is another overwhelming narrative, we are heading for catastrophe. ‘Estamos bien! We are fine!’ one exclaims, then another and another until the audience too is encouraged to join in shouting, ‘Estamos bien!’
Using a variety of objects on three long tables, a couple of plants and green screens, the performers then take their story back to what they identify as the beginning of consumerism, when Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit. No, not the apple – the fruit of love as they call it – the banana.
Cue a banana rap, a plethora of suggestive images and what Señor Serrano call ‘virile choreographies’. It sounds grand but strip it down and the lesson from this multicultural creation is that men’s phallic obsession and dick jokes transcend geographical boundaries.
Still, much of the audience seemed to be swept along by it. The story continues with a brief history of the United Fruit Company and the suggestion that not Henry Found but UFC’s founder, Minor Cooper Keith was the revolutionary behind mass production. Why? Because in 1890 nobody in the West had seen, much less eaten, a banana. And by 1920 it was already king of the supermarket. Hence the link to King Kong, another excuse for the men to go bare chested, play some more and roar like apes.
The on-stage theatrical smoking is used for the odd camera effect but feels more like an excuse for the performers to chain-smoke throughout, which is irritable to eyes and throat even in the circle. Estamos bien, si, si, si! No, no, no!
It culminates in a massive, ear-busting rave where miniature bank notes fly like stage confetti. I imagine for students studying experimental and film multi-media performance it is a must see. It’s an hour-long, energetic blast but like the consumerism it portrays, the call to embrace our bestiality and bananas feels as hollow as it sounds.★ ★ ★
See what’s coming up at HOME for MIF19 at the Manchester International Festival in July.