What is jollier than an evening with the tango, whether as dancer or – as the millions who tune into television’s Strictly Come Dancing well know – as eager viewer? It is to this BBC programme that Midnight Tango owes its identity. Its stars are Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone, whom a huge public has hailed as dazzlers in the ballroom. Its theme, as with every tango since the craze first swept through Argentina and into Europe a century ago, is that physical charge that fires the dancing and the relationship between besuited men, outfitted with fedora and undoubtedly caddish shoes, and women boasting impeccable pins, modish dresses, elegant footwear and the ability to bend without breaking.
Jorge Luis Borges called the tango “a vertical rape”, but at the Aldwych Theatre it is a fizzing display of slashing footwork and yielding torsos, with Cacace and Simone as leaders of the rout. There is a clever setting of a decrepit bar by Morgan Large, admirably lit by James Whiteside. There is a skeletal narrative about a love affair between Cacace and Simone – excuse for temperamental shenanigans amid five other couples who vie with each other for tango virtuosity. (It goes without saying that Cacace, beautiful, chic, mistress of every step, is a triumphant centrepiece to this action, in Simone’s arms.) There is a bar-keeper and his wife, who are vivacious. And there is the musical armature of the evening, provided by Tango Siempre, a sextet of fine musicians who give life and passion to every moment.
Their playing has the verve and gut-wrenching rhythmic drive associated with the greatest Argentinian bands, and their account of the scores – especially marvels by Astor Piazzolla – has the earthy vitality, the urban chic, so central to tango’s music and steps. Whatever the artificialities of the staging, here is the tango, raw, intoxicating, speaking with its true voice.
For the violinist Ros Stephen, the pianist Jonathan Taylor and their colleagues, much admiration, as for the tenor Miguel Angel. The production, by Karen Bruce, does exactly what needs to be done to frame its stars and its cast. Tango rules!