theSpace @ Niddry St – Upper Theatre (Thrust)
1 hour 10 minutes
Retrospective review: run finished
Maggie Rose in Edinburgh
28 August 2023
This piece dramatizes the story of Tino, a young Italian man from Varallo Sesia, a town in northern Piedmont. Author Morgan Turner explains why he and his newly founded company, Trouble in the Square, decided to write and develop what is an unusual historical play in the context of contemporary British writing. He said: “We want to ask what it means to be a soldier, what happens to someone’s identity at war, what it means to grow disproportionately older, as so many soldiers do in comparison to civilians.”
In the opening scene, set in April 1942, we watch Tino struggling to make a crucial decision which is bound to change his life forever; he has just turned 18 and will therefore be conscripted by the Fascist government. Should he flee by hiking to nearby neutral Switzerland, or stay and fight for his country?
In a heated, emotionally charged exchange between Tino and his older friend Romero, the latter announces he is going to Switzerland while Tino is adamant that he will fight and joins a Battalion that is heading for Russia and the grim Eastern Front.
We also hear a backstory as to why Tino is so determined he will join the army; he has spent most of his life in an orphanage where he was mistreated and bullied, and later on, Romero — despite his brotherly love — has never treated Tino as an equal. Going to war means a new identity which Tino feels will win him the respect of Romero and his peers.
Miguel Molo in the lead role of Tino manages to convey the vulnerability, determination, naivety and sometimes confused state of mind of this very ordinary young man. Il Burattino is the puppet, which Milana, a young woman who adores Tino, makes him as a birthday present.
As the action unfolds the young man uses the puppet to entertain his army colleagues. At first, still believing in the Fascist propaganda, he uses it to boost morale by entertainingly imitating the King Victor Emmanuel III and Benito Mussolini, but as he becomes increasingly bitter and jaded by the horrors of the war, the puppet turns into a slanderous mouthpiece.
It is a pity that the later scenes in the play, dramatizing Tino’s encounters with other soldiers, whom he meets while on active service, are endowed with less dramatic strength than the first scene. The meeting with Virgil, an older soldier, would have been worth developing further as a key to Tino’s psychological need for older figures as his friends, as was a character, like Milana.
Il Burattino is nonetheless an unusual, and at times gripping World War Two drama since it offers an insight into aspects of the war from an atypical standpoint
It also delves into the question of how a very ordinary young man, like many Italians, joined the war lured by Fascist propaganda and believing they could fulfill their dreams. Through Tino’s story, moreover, the author raises the thorny question of those Italian men, who decided to escape to nearby Switzerland to avoid the draft, a complex theme which could have been explored further.
On a more contemporary note, the play implicitly alludes to the war raging in Ukraine and all those young men who have been, and are being, conscripted into a war which they don’t necessarily believe in.
It is evident why the situation might chime with the young male theatre-makers involved in the Burattino, who, if the present war escalates could find themselves in a similar situation to Tino’s.
In 2022, Miguel Mota, Morgan Turner and Luke Feechan who are recent graduates of the music theatre programme at Portsmouth university founded the international company, Trouble in the Square. Company members from Italy, Switzerland, Portugal and the UK managed to crowdfund their play: first an unusual opening as a professionally shot live performance recording at the Southsea cinema in Portsmouth followed by successful runs at the Brighton and Edinburgh fringes.