This is a rarity—a show from the Buxton Fringe that does not mention the current health crisis.
Xuxu’s Revolt by Pieter Egriega combines a wide range of techniques to tell the story of Fadista Xuxu Carvalho, a forgotten Fado singer who was active in the 1974 Carnation Revolution that started a revolutionary process resulting in a democratic Portugal. Well I say the show tells her story; the approach taken by Egriega is somewhat scattershot, making it necessary to research many of the details.
The film opens gradually with a series of captions (a technique used throughout) giving brief details of the period. These are amusing but go on so long you begin to hope the information is not necessary to understand what is to come. The show is clearly a labour of love and, as well as giving biographical details, Egriega describes how he came to be aware of the singer’s history.
This lecture is, however, delivered in an unusual manner that hinders communication. A television on a bare stage features Egriega, often in profile, telling his tale. It seems, however, as if this has been filmed at some distance in the venue (rather than direct from the screen) and the poor sound quality limits clarity. Details of Fadista Xuxu Carvalho’s life are given in a subjective manner. Fado music is a melancholic form of Portuguese singing that is often associated with pubs, cafés, and restaurants. Accordingly, the film has many atmospheric shots of such venues.
We are told that Fadista Xuxu Carvalho struggled with the patriarchal society in Portugal—a point confirmed by her song "All Men are Lying Shits". Yet it is hard to work out from the film how she contributed to the 1974 Revolution other than by articulating the community’s feeling of discontent.
The bulk of the film comprises simply the Fado songs which are performed in full alternating with the biographical details. The only concession Egriega makes to his audience is that the lyrics are translated into English. The arrangements are raw with only the occasional piano added to the instruments played by Egriega allowing the full power of the songs to be appreciated in their original format. It is a sincere and moving tribute that helps clarify why Egriega feels so strongly about the now forgotten singer.
Xuxu’s Revolt is a passion project and the sheer quality of the music and playing helps bring to a wider audience the melancholy beauty of the Fado tradition.
Reviewer: David Cunningham