Tango is a dance of grace and danger, a dance that embodies desire in its web of glances, advances and evasions, a dance that inspires deep devotion from its followers – a dance that, frankly, should sometimes be lampooned. Napoletango, an Italian show created and directed by Giancarlo Sepe, does that with some gusto. More theatre than dance, it tells the story of the Incoronatos, a sprawling Neapolitan family of odds and sods and hangers on who, under the guidance of materfamilias Concetta (played with throaty theatricality by Cristina Donadio), decide to put on a tango show – even though they can’t actually, you know, tango.
What they lack in dance ability, they make up for in rowdy enthusiasm and side-show overacting. The first half sees some riotous set pieces as the company prepare for their performance. The motley crew are introduced in ragged waves of shouting, bopping and stamping, everyone piles into the same bedroom for their beauty sleep, and they all get exuberantly naked for their morning shower (discreetly blurred behind a translucent curtain). Anyone who’s taken a tango lesson will laugh at the dance class – all purposeful walks, gendered posturing and cod philosophising.
The plot is confusing, but the anarchic mix of music (classic tangos, electrotango, cheesy Hollywood pastiche and pop) and the gleeful trampling of tango sensibilities are a lot of fun – up to a point. After the build-up to the tango show, the narrative fizzles out, and the show-within-a-show is a let-down: more clod-hopping caricatures, in kitscher costumes. The bludgeoning effect is compounded by the surtitles, which offer intermittent and inadequate translations of what sounds like a colourful script. The one actual tango number, by the only two professional dancers in the company (Argentinians Pablo Moyano and Marcela Szurkalo), makes you long for less ham-fisted burlesque and more, you know, tango.