CHRISTOPHER SMITH Norwich Theatre Royal
> Norwich Theatre Royal
The beat is everything. Strong but subtle, pulsating with primal energy yet sophisticated in its endless variations, it carries all before it.
It is the soul of the music though not its sole source, and it speaks of Cuba - a land of a history that leads through every torment civilisation could bring from the Old World to yield its unique blend of African and Central American.
Lady Salsa, the work of writer-director Toby Gough and produced by John Lee, takes two stories. First are glimpses of the troubled past of the tortured Caribbean island, and the second thread is the autobiography of the redoubt-able chanteuse Trinidad Rolando Portocarrero, who figures as the heroine.
Both narratives form the skeletons that are given flesh and blood in song and dance.
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Half a score of dancers dash on. Packed full of high-octane energy, they hurl themselves into their routines. Athletic and gymnastic, graceful as well as vigorous, they strut their stuff and parade their sensuality.
All the time a current of sexuality runs like electricity, making every contact a possible flashpoint.
Costumes are as varied and imaginative as the patterns of movement. A flash of sequins, a glimpse of flesh make all the more impression because of the sheer delight in colour. Scarlet, green, white and, best of all, rich gold give life to clothes that part to reveal the skin beneath. Skirts are enlivened with imaginative hemlines that reveal so much.
Perhaps the most fetching outfits are a pair of two-pieces in fluorescent yellow. The effect is strangely attractive in its garish way.
The chorus is supported by a dozen instrumentalists. Placed on a platform that runs along the whole back of the stage, they are an essential part of the show, visually as well as musically. Percussion is naturally powerful, but the handling of instrumental tone also adds a lot.
The performers give their all with the wholeheartedness that carries the audience along. After a bit, though, it becomes clearer that just being a spectator is hardly an option. In the second half, participation is called for in a style that won't take a denial. This is a chance to learn to dance Cuban fashion, throwing off your inhibitions and shaking it all about.
To their credit, Norwich folk took up the challenge, doing their bit to add some more fun to the entertainment.