Barnie Duncan’s alter-ego Juan Vesuvius has returned to Edinburgh with a DJing set unlike any other. There’s nothing normal about this Venezuelan disc jockey – not least the fact that Duncan is actually Kiwi – but though at first his music might seem a thin thread to hold together absurd set pieces about Jacques Cousteau and bananas, everything in the end comes back to the songs.
The show is strongest when it really gets involved in the music.
The show is full of sudden changes in tone and style. There’s deliberately awkward audience participation, raucous dance numbers, prop gags, clowning, a great bit on repetition and even some education, as Vesuvius shows his crowd the ins and outs of calypso. Not every shift works, since they require the audience to do some pretty quick thinking to grasp what genre of comedy is playing out next - a joke that plays on psychedelia gets a laugh only the second time around, once the crowd can recognise what’s happening.
As the show progresses, Vesuvius takes his captive audience on a roaming journey through the music of the Caribbean, from calypso to soca to mash-ups and more. A moment where he gives out flags to audience members while explaining the influence of colonialism on the music of the islands is, if low on laughs, high on fun. That’s a consistent feeling; if you’re not laughing, you’re still enjoying yourself immensely, as well as learning on the sly. The pointed anti-colonialism could be taken further, especially when it comes to the damage of the banana republics, which gets a bit lost in the palava.
The show is strongest when it really gets involved in the music. An early section where records are flipped on and off within seconds threatens to become dull, but later excerpts, now informed by Vesuvius’ trivia offer more. The one time we hear a whole song (twice!) is undoubtedly the highlight of the show, combining the strange props, Vesuvius’ timely explanations, audience interaction and a cracking tune. It’s this moment, I think, that gets the audience fully on board for Vesuvius’ daring and brilliant finish.