Can we trust what it says on the bottle or in the small print at the bank? David Whetstone reviews Canary Gold, a new play premiered this week at the Queen’s Hall in Hexham.
A RICH evening’s entertainment hangs on the tale of a bottle of wine – allegedly a very old bottle.
I say allegedly because this is a play mainly about greed and duplicity, linking 16th Century pirates with the big beasts of 21st Century high finance.
Is that bottle of wine, supposedly from the same batch as the bottle uncorked by Thomas Jefferson to toast the American Declaration of Independence in 1769, real or fake?
If its monetary value is reliant on its contents never being consumed, does it really matter?
The ironies of the investment game – with particular regard to wine – provide the production’s funniest lines, although some of these are well-known, as in Laurence J Peter’s “an economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn’t happen today”.
Canary Gold is an intriguing, full-blooded co-production between Theatre Sans Frontieres, which is based in Hexham, and Teatro Tamaska from Tenerife.
The leading lights in both companies have studied and performed together over many years and share an interest in physical and multi-lingual drama.
What better theme for them both to explore than the historic part played by wine in relations between Britain and Spain, and specifically the Canary Islands where so many of us go for sun-kissed hols?
A talented cast of four – two English actors (John Cobb and Paddy Burton), one French (Sophie Millon) and one Spanish (Josefa Suárez) – take us, in the first half, back to the 16th Century and to encounters on the high seas between Francis Drake and those sailing under rival flags.
Condemned as a common pirate by the Spanish, Drake’s habit of returning home with glorious trinkets for Elizabeth I prompted her to dub him Sir Francis and build the foundations of the British Empire on his example – or so we are told.
Little wooden boats, some of them strangely reminiscent of packing cases with sails, provide platforms for the actors as they are pushed around the stage, with even smaller hand- held versions used to illustrate the turbulence of the sea.
Meanwhile, in the present day, a banker called Bob Drake hosts an investors’ day at Canary Wharf where wine experts are extolling the virtues of Canary Gold, a wine with the promise of paradise and, naturally, of a good future mark-up.
They look so trustworthy, those wine experts, just the kind of people you’d entrust with your hard-earned cash. But as we learned during the credit crunch, a well-cut suit is no guarantee of reliability.
Canary Gold, directed by Carlos Belda, offers much food for thought as actors change costumes and languages while cavorting around Alison Ashton’s simple yet effective set.
The second half of the play, with an infusion of modern-day intrigue surrounding that bottle of Jefferson plonk, works better than the first.
But in the spirit of Robert Lepage, the influential Canadian theatre director for whom members of both these companies have worked, the fine-tuning will continue until things run as smoothly as Canary Gold.
The play comes to Northern Stage, Newcastle, on February 15 and 16.