Don’t miss James Cairns in the smart and sassy one-hander, ‘El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi’ at Michaelhouse


James Cairns stars in the award-winning one-man show, El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi, at the Schlesinger Theatre at Michaelhouse on February 3. Photo: Dex Goodman

ESTELLE SINKINS speaks to James Cairns about his one-man show, El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi, which is being staged at the Schlesinger Theatre at Michaelhouse on February 3.

EL Blanco, the titular hero of James Cairns’ one-man show, El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi, is the embodiment of everyone who’s ever had an artistic thought and who has then gone on to do something they thought was artistic, but isn’t.

“No matter how arty and creative you think your job is there are huge parts of our lives that make us feel that we have given up on some kind of spiritual essence — a sense of FOMO [fear of missing out] that ultimately is unjustified,” explains former ‘Maritzburg resident, Cairns.

“He [El Blanco] discovers that it has very little to do with what you do, but how you do it.”

The play, which sees the actor wearing a semi-traditional mariachi band outfit, and playing several different instruments, weaves together stories and songs based on everything from Mexican creation myths and Ancient Egyptians to George Clooney.

The show – which is being staged at the Schlesinger Theatre at Michaelhosue in Balgowan on at 7.30 pm on Friday, February 3 – was written by acclaimed writer, Gwydion Beynon (The Epicene Butcher, Amateur Hour), the show leads theatre-goers through a chain of false epiphanies which only lead El Blanco, back into self-doubt. As the story progresses, we discover that lies often reveal truths that would otherwise remain unspoken.

The spark for the Beynon and Cairns collaboration was lit after the two men bumped into each other on the last night last night of the National Arts Festival in 2014.

“We decided that we wanted to work together on a solo show that was a Western, had songs and a no dreary ending,” says Cairns, who has delighted audiences in Dirt, The Sitting Man, Three Little Pigs, The Snow Goose in recent years.

The actor loves the contemporary feel of Beynon’s writing. “Much theatre writing tends to have the feeling that it happened some time ago, that it’s happened already or is a comment on something that has already happened, but Gwydion’s writing feels incredibly present (as in present tense). I get the sense that it unfolds as the words come out,” he says.


James Cairns

On stage, however, Cairns is alone in the spotlight, and he admits that performing in a one-man can be testing at times.

“The biggest challenge in a solo show is keeping the motivation going after the show,” he says. “You can get the longest standing ovation of your career, but you still go back to the dressing room and fold up your costume alone.

“I think you have to really treat it like a normal job and not expect anything special. Just be a guy who goes home after work. The fact that you make people laugh, cry and clap has nothing to do with it. Be as normal as possible.”

The Maritzburg College old boy is looking forward to being back in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

“I love coming to perform in the Midlands, because as a former Maritzburg boy I know what buttons to push,” Cairns says.

“I don’t really have to feel things out the way I would performing overseas, for example, when I don’t know what they’re going to laugh at. I’m always pretty confident that a Midlands audience is solid under my high balls and I know they’re going to catch them and send them back with interest.”

Asked why theatre-goers should come and see El Blanco at the Schlesinger Theatre, Cairns says “because you will have seen nothing like it before; it’s rather funny, it has songs and a built-in radio drama.”

Tickets for El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi are R100. Book at or via email with Angela Jonsson at  or 033 234 1314 weekdays between 8 am and 1 pm.

James Cairns will also be performing El Blanco at the Kalk Bay Theatre in Cape Town from February 28 to March 18 and at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square in Johannesburg from March 20 to April 8. He will also be performing the show at the Grahamstown Festival from June 29 to July 9.

He is also planning to do two other shows at the National Arts Festival, a solo-improv long-form called, James Cairns Against Humanity and epic iambic blues poem, Shel Silverstein’s The Devil and Billy Markham. Those will both be popping up in Joburg prior to the festival and around the country in the second half of the year.

Asked if there was any news on Three Blind Mice and when the sequel-of sorts to the acclaimed Three Little Pigs would be performed, Cairns said: “Well, Three Little Pigs was performed in Brazil, because they have societal problems remarkably similar to ours.

“I cannot divulge any news with regard to Three Blind Mice, other than that the door is not closed. It’s just very hard to get Tara Notcutt, Rob van Vuuren, Albert Pretorius and myself in the same place for long enough to rehearse the show.”



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