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Review: CASA Festival – Tropicalia Island; Butch Princessa; Unfamiliar, at Arcola theatre

23 July, 2019 — By Leo Garib

Brazilian-born actress and playwright Fernanda Mandagara in Tropicalia Island

LIFE is getting tougher for satirists and comedians by the day. Just how do they satirise a world of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Brexit? Hogarth would have been left scratching his head.

But Brazilian writer and actress Fernanda Mandagará achieved the rare thing of making a mockery of one of the most serious crisis facing us – refugees.

Her comedy Tropicalia Island sends up Theresa May’s hostile environment for refugees, Trump’s wall across the US-Mexican border, Brexit and the obsession with keeping people out.

It’s sometime in the future and the world is ending, devoured by mud and sludge from our waste. There are only three safe places left, and only Tropicalia island is warm and welcoming. Apparently.

But from the moment the audience queues for the auditorium, the hostile environment begins. Turning the tables on the theatre-goers, it is they who are cast as refugees, and who are streamed for acceptance into Tropicalia or rejection. Will you be classed a “Tropicalien” and treated as an alien immigrant?

Andrea Spisto in Butch Princessa 

The mad-cap black humour flows for an hour as the audience is treated to just a glimpse of what it’s like on the other side of the immigration debate.

Well directed by Brazilian Ramiro Silveira, with a supporting cast of Charlotte Laporte, Leanne Shorley and Sophie MacArthur, there is plenty of audience participation and sharp satire. She even slips in a wicked reference to the Margaret Thatcher’s Falklands – Malvinas – war. Describing her character’s layabout British dad, she points out one of his only redeeming features was that he killed some Argentinians in the war. Sadly, few of the British theatre-goers got that the joke was on them.

Also in the spirit of high-jinks and strange kinks, Butch Princessa – at CASA for one night before transferring to the Edinburgh Fringe – is a trip into the world of a gay Latin immigrant. Venezuelan-born comedian and actress Andrea Spisto put on a storming one-woman show in which she introduces the many different – and wild – characters that “inhabit” her.  The rollicking 60-minute show is a one-woman tour de force in which Spisto does stand-up, sings, raps and dances, in between some biting and tear-jerking commentary on life as a Latin immigrant queer woman.

How does a gay couple deal with the issue of having a child? It turns out to be layered and highly emotional. Brazilian-born performer Victor Esses and artist Yorgos Petrou lift the curtain on what they went through as their autobiographical two-man show, Unfamiliar. If the title is a take on the process of setting up a family in a world still hostile to gay parenting, their 60-minute performance art piece makes imaginative use of their diverse props to reveal how they agonised over parenthood. They are frank, intimate and emotional.

The CASA Festival continues until 27 July at the Arcola theatre, Dalston, the Rich Mix, Shoreditch, and Rio cinema, Dalston.

Tropicalia Island at the Arcola theatre, Dalston, on 27 July.
Butch Princessa and Unfamiliar, were also at the Arcola theatre.
• CASA Festival 16-27 July
• Arcola Theatre telephone: 020 7503 1646


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