Staged and directed by the Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, Flamenco Flamen’ka is based on a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. Two brothers (Manuel Gutierrez Cabello and Francisco Hidalgo) fall for a prostitute (Sharon Sultan); they agree to share her, but the trio is too unstable. She is the intruder in their relationship, and they kill her.
The action begins with a strutty crowd of flamenco men, off to the bordello. There, surrounded by snaky women stroking their thighs, the bosomy Sultan tosses her wild black hair and tickles her castanets. The men are lusty and brawly, forever pulling out their knives and flashing them at each other. Hombres and chiquitas fight and writhe against pillars. It’s a string of hollow Latino cliches. They sing Bésame Mucho as if it meant “kiss me quick”. The doom-saying brothel madam (played by Karen Ruimy) intones “all it takes to die is to be alive” like a fake gypsy fortune-teller in a fairground.
The flamenco choreography is passable, the tango less so, and the salsa is, to borrow Horwood’s own phrase, d-u-l-l. On top of it all are humdrum renditions of Perhaps, The Boy from Ipanema, and Ravel’s Bolero. It’s like Latin theme night on a cruise ship.
Yet this corny medley also aims to dig deeper; it’s about violence and desire, about women as sexual conduits for relations between men. To his credit, Horwood risks pushing this theme to its logical extremes. At one end, the men ditch the women and dance with each other (knives out, naturally). At the other, there’s a gang rape in the brothel. But the male tango feels botched, the rape gratuitous – as does the final sex/stabbing. A magician like Almodóvar might have made something of this mix of melodrama, machismo and musical; but this is a mess.