Tiva Quinn Reviews FADO The Saddest Music In The World On At The Firehall Arts Centre Until February 5th

20 Jan

It’s very easy to see why Fado was such a big hit at the Firehall in 2019 and why they decided to bring it back as part of getting into the swing of things with live theatre again.

This play attempts to blend an ambitious number of themes into a typical runtime of 90 minutes or so and not only succeeds but makes it look easy.

I went in not knowing much about it besides that I like Fado music even if I don’t listen to it very often. I expected to be impressed with Fado as a musical and a story of artistic ambition and development, and that’s 100% true. We get not just one but 3 incredibly talented singers showing us how an entire country could be in love with “the saddest music in the world” and the way it turns pain into beauty.

We get an appealing and sympathetic main character who wants to learn to sing Fado with true Portuguese passion even if she was born in Canada and some people think that makes her too happy and too lucky to pull it off. We get a cantankerous yet charming mentor figure. We get singing that shows strong yet unrealized potential – which is quite something to pull off when a lot of the audience isn’t very familiar with what the fullest expression of the form would sound like.

At the same time, we also get an interesting examination of Portugal’s 20th Century history and politics as seen from contrasting points of view – with a couple of questions that you may have never considered before such as, “can a song be fascist?” We get a conversation about whether emigrants can ever really leave the home country behind and whether they can ever really return to it, as well as what the imagined homeland means to the second generation. We get two love stories with some surprising twists and turns. And Fado fits all of this in with a script that feels like natural conversation, never forcing large chunks of backstory or introspection into anyone’s lines.

Performances are very strong across the board but for me the standout is Natércia Napoleao’s Luisa, the main character’s mother. She seems at first meeting like she’s going to be an Old-World Mum cliché, a bit of comic relief that we return to occasionally, wielding her precious iron to make everything fancy. However, she quickly blossoms into a complex character, although not always a likable one. She’s a woman who actively resists being stereotyped and complicates the narrative or speaks volumes by simply walking away when others try to dismiss her too easily. 

If I have any quibbles it would be that the play introduces a gay character whose story feels like it doesn’t quite have time enough to breathe or resolve properly. That said the character and his storyline are every bit as strong as the rest of this tale in the moments he does get – and it’s possible that too neat a resolution would be a dishonest way of presenting what it’s like to be gay in a very Catholic country. 

For tickets, visit the Firehall Arts Centre.

By Tiva Quinn

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: