La Cuadra de Sevilla, Congress Theatre, Eastbourne

Madness in their method

Andalucian Images For Carmina Burana is the ominously long-winded title of a show that takes an inordinately long time to decide what it's going to be about. According to its publicity, the theme is "the history and heritage of the Andalucian people through their centuries of pain and persecution" which, even at this level of vagueness, is impossible to guess until the final minutes. Carl Orff's choral society warhorse, on the other hand, is very decidedly an arrangement of 12th -century songs expressing the views of a bunch of naughty monks on the joys of getting drunk and ogling women.

Tavora gets around this basic mismatch by declaring that the show is "a sort of madness, a delirium". And so it proves, not least in the somewhat craven sensationalism that relies on a pair of dancing white stallions, two human dwarfs, a giant statue of the Virgin Mary that weeps blood, and a scantily clad woman dying on a cross.

The stage is also required to accommodate several items of heavy-duty ironmongery - a small ferris wheel and what appear to be a couple of exercise bikes but turn out to be modernist representations of bulls, on whose handlebar-horns two flamenco-dancing matadors are subsequently gored, calling for quantities of fake blood.

Yet there are some good things in this 90-minute show, not least a promising opening dance number featuring a quartet of flying angels (hence the ferris wheel) and two genuinely stirring flamenco singers. Ana Real's voice is remarkable for its spoon-banged-in-a-bucket clangour, while Rosa Garcia's has a lovely husky melodiousness. Together their declamatory contributions, sandwiched between taped chunks of the preposterous Carmina Burana, just about hold the evening together.

I was also aware of a sustained effort by both singers to enunciate clearly, perhaps in the hope of reaching out to British audiences' holiday Spanish. This goes some way to compensate for the atrocious English translation of the printed programme, though there is no guarantee we would have grasped the director's thoughts any better in a good one.

It will be a shame if spectators coming new to flamenco dance go away thinking that this is all it amounts to. The men's strenuous struttings and heel drummings are crude and dynamically flat, and Lalo Tejada's solo dancing - which is required to carry half the show - has none of the languid indifference, still less the virtuosity, that marks out the great female flamenco artists. There is too much agenda here, too much brow-clutching and narrative baggage, for any true flamenco spark to catch fire.

In the end, what audiences are likely to remember most about this show are the Persil-white horses, the amount of drool they deposited on stage, and the theme tune from Champions League. They will almost certainly be none the wiser about the history of the persecuted poor in southern Spain.

jenny.gilbert@independent.co.uk

Royal Centre, Nottingham (0115 989 5555) Mon to Sat; Mayflower Theatre, Southampton (023 8071 1811) 8-14 May; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (0131 529 6000) 15-21 May; and touring until late July.

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