“New Zealand. Beautiful. Wow.” So begins Juan Vesuvius the international DJ. He wastes no time in conveying his almost speechless appreciation of our scrag of land at the tailbone of the world. We’ve heard it all before, but somehow it’s still endearing. To this half-cut audience on a Friday night it’s all gravy and as Juan makes someone in the front row lower their finger slowly into a chutney jar, the less coked up members of the audience relax: we’re in the hands of a master.
Barnie Duncan’s hour long (give or take twenty minutes, so be prepared) Juan, Two? appears to go in some strange and opposite directions. The aforementioned condiment makes an early appearance (you may never want to eat it again, at least not the brown variety); the history of the United Fruit Company and Freddie Mercury’s Indian heritage are all highlights on a tour that dovetails into a dissertation about Soca and its roots in Calypso and Indian music.
Only someone suffering chronic delusions or someone gifted with massive talent would even think of trying to pull this off on a Friday night at 10pm. So much of of what Duncan does is traditional craft: the crowd is worked off the cuff, motifs are introduced and then referred back to at just the right time, peculiarities of the venue are incorporated, the audience provides the finale. Within all this is a show about Latin culture and how the western world sees it and appropriates it and what’s good and bad about that. Wonderfully, it’s also a show about having a really, really great time.
If all theatre is a magic trick, then Juan, Two? has to rate as one of the most effortless and most masterful I’ve seen this year. We could really do with more of this and more of Barnie Duncan.
Skiing out into the snowstorm that is The Basement’s Studio stage comes Juan Vesuvius. The Venezuelan Calypso DJ speaks into a banana on a microphone stand, and spins classic Donovan tunes. With an e-cigarette dangling from his mouth, a fruity cocktail in his hand and hips that never stop shaking, he is the life of the party. Prepare for a most sensual and enlightening evening.
Juan is the creation of Barnie Duncan. Using a combination of traditional stand up, DJ mash ups, pantomime and crowd interaction. Juan shows the audience just how beautiful music can be, and how it is here to relieve us of the stresses of everyday life. Juan compares it to the friendship between a goat and a rhinoceros. It’s often silly and absurd and very funny.
One bit on inspired lunacy occurs when Juan decides to explain the music of Trinidad and Tobago, using a Disney recording of Sinbad as a sort of musical Mad libs. Hearing the history of slave trade inserted into such a polite record is endlessly amusing, especially as “Day-Oh” fades in and the topic turns to just how many bananas is in an eight head.
At times, it seems Juan is testing just how far his audience is willing to follow him. Thankfully he creates a very open, accommodating environment – the sort where the audience has no problems joining in on a celebratory boogie. It’s hard to not to get caught up in the dance.
The last time I saw Barnie Duncan was when he very convincingly played a Spaniard to hilarious effect in Briar Grace Smith's Paniora! at the International Arts Festival earlier this year. I haven't read any promotional material so I don't know what to expect with Juan. Two? Something Spanishy? Regardless, I know he'll have the accent sorted.
First off, respect to the audience. All are stellar participants, good natured and enthusiastic. No room for shy wallflowers here and I say that because they assist in what has got to be the best ending of a show ever!! Some even seem to run on stage to participate during the set. Now, that's keen.
Secondly, Juan Vesuvius – the Venezuelan DJ – is a fantastic creation. Thirdly, Barnie Duncan can DJ!
I enter to Vesuvius on stage, in front of his decks which are covered in flags and wearing a leave-nothing-to-the-imagination ski suit which he strips off revealing a leave-nothing-to-the-imagination calypso outfit. It may be because I am late or he's referencing his 2013 show Calypso Nights, where he was named Best Newcomer, that I don't really get what follows, though everyone else seems to. It makes me hang on in there.
Then something happens halfway through where suddenly I do get it and find myself loving it. The DJing is genius, the music selection perfect, the accompanying commentary is both informative and funny, and – well for want of any other adjective – genius.
When he creates a Calypso band it takes every bone in my body not to rush on stage and bitch-slap someone/ anyone out of the way. After that my review notes move into what can only be described as the equivalent of a repetitive, slurring drunk: this is really, really good, fantastic, this is good …!
Duncan's a consummate professional and stays in character the whole time. Each segue is impressively clean which means it looks effortless. Don't be mistaken though, some serious thought and work has gone into this. Respect man. Is Juan Vesuvius available for parties?
Samuel Phillips - Lumiere.net.nz'The play weaves together Jamaican and Indian music history, international relations, and live DJing and a stage dive, and, best of all, leaves the audience dancing in the aisle...'open/close
A banana sits on a microphone stand. An Indian flag is hanging below a turntable. A jar of chutney sits on a table. The set looks put together with all the coherency of an easily distracted child. And when the ever suave, ever charming Juan Vesuvius (Barney Duncan) enters through the audience, dressed in a ski suit, we exchange glances. Stripping off into a Carnival costume, he shows us why each item he’s collected is ‘beautiful’, interspersing this some neat music cues.
Then, all of a sudden, he starts making connections between the objects, and this work starts making sense. On the surface it’s a music-based standup act, but Juan, two? is so much more. The play weaves together Jamaican and Indian music history, international relations, and live DJing and a stage dive, and, best of all, leaves the audience dancing in the aisle.
This work wraps the history of a fascinating genre of music within a party atmosphere, making Juan, two? another rocking success in the Juan Vesuvius canon.
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