Maggie Rose in Edinburgh
8 August 2023
A Fringe trend in recent years is the growing number of Italian theatre makers bringing their shows in English and 2023 is no exception.
I’m referring to plays rather than dance, mime or musical theatre. The phenomenon no doubt reflects the growing confidence of these practitioners to perform in English as well as their overriding wish to make their work known nationally as well as internationally. Avignon and Edinburgh are two beacons that call in this context. I’ll be looking at three Italian women, each with her own very specific story.
Performer, writer and singer Anna Vanosi, who lives and works in Milan and Edinburgh, brought her Fringe show, Late Bloomers’ Tales to the Jazz Club in Chambers Street, an intimate venue equipped with a small stage, bar, tables and chairs where audience members can enjoy a drink along with this show, an entertaining mix of monologues, songs and music.
Immediately, Vanosi drew the audience in, involving us in what the programme dubs, “a search for her own tempo, running against time and making peace with her late bloomer’s shadow”. She asks us, “Have you ever been, or felt late? Late for what? Late for who?” She then confesses how she felt 82 when she was still a young girl, and gave her first kiss at 18, but now, as an adult, she still isn’t sure if she wants a career as an artist or a family of her own in the small town near Milan where she was raised.
In recent times, however, after backpacking in south-east Asia like a teenager when she was in her thirties, she triumphantly shows us some well executed yoga positions, suggesting she has finally found an inner balance. These tragi-comic ‘confessions’, which would have been worth exploring in more depth and with greater specificity, are deftly intertwined with songs, ranging from jazz and blues to pop, accompanied by guitar and piano. And it is in the interpretation of the songs, whose themes tie in with her story, that Anna Vanosi shines, carrying the audience with her on a truly emotional journey. Late Bloomers’ Tales, directed by Justin Butcher, is an authentic and often humorous search for self and identity.
Be My Guest. A Journey Through Positive Madness, written, directed and interpreted by Monia Baldini, at Assembly’s Box Theatre, represents this performer’s attempt to put onstage the many selves, or ‘guests’ as she calls them, which during a long creative process she has discovered inside herself.
The piece opens with a young woman, dressed in a simple black leotard, edging her way into this tiny studio theatre through the same door that the audience have used, and shyly, sometimes coyly, asking our permission to begin the show.
This first character, ‘Me’, is soon followed by others – the Tragic Actress, Venus, the Artist, the She-Lion, etc, – whom this performer embodies in a style that constantly shifts between clowning, bouffon, improvisation, cabaret and physical comedy.
In an interview, Baldini told me how she had made a definite choice to rely exclusively on body language and vocal skills rather than on different costumes and stage props to evoke the characters. She also values audience interaction, which she sets up with great skill, sometimes bringing people on stage, at other times inviting them to comment on the raft of characters.
Baldini’s mesmerizing stage presence and empathy for her audience make this a very special theatre-going experience. At one moment she can embody the She-Lion, her most visceral and angry character, inviting the audience to take off their shoes in order to make contact with the earth and roar loudly along with her. At another, she reverts to the Artist, complaining about the injustices of the Italian theatre system including her failed attempts to get into a traditional drama school.
She will then revert to “Me”, a young girl from Neri, a village near Florence, who nurtures a dream. The dream is to become an actor, following a path that suits her. (As an adult, she trained at Ecole Philippe Gaulier in Paris and found a mentor in the ‘midwife of clowns’, Giovanni Fusetti, who acts as devising consultant for the present show. Baldini has achieved this and much more in a show that is worthy of close attention.
Stefania Licari’s Medico, Doctor, Migrant, Diva, directed and co-devised by Chris Hatt, arrived at the Underbelly venue following a UK tour. This stand-up show reveals the author-performer’s tragi-comic experiences as an Italian doctor and migrant to the UK where she took up a post as an NHS intensive-care doctor.
We are presented with a mix of physical gags, jokes and true stories focusing on the racism and sexism still embedded in the medical world today. To make her point, Licari sometimes re-enacts specific encounters where one patient refused point-blank to be treated by a foreign doctor, or another, seeing Licari’s Latina appearance (long dark hair and eyes), immediately took her for a hospital cleaner and demanded to know where the doctor was.
In flashbacks to her native Milan, sometimes punctuated by colourful Italian idiom, which made the Italians in the audience roar with laughter, Licari reveals the difficulties she encountered when leaving Milan including her mother’s incredulity followed by amazement.
How could her daughter, a respected doctor, who she had put through medical school for seven long years, make the rash decision to leave for England and a life on the stage? We also witness this feisty medic’s encounter with British bureaucracy as she takes the “Life in the UK” test to become a British citizen. Among the multiple choice questions: How many wives did Henry VIII have? And why did he get rid of some of them so quickly?
These questions, which were immediately followed by an ironic quip at the late Silvio Berlusconi’s multiple affairs and young lovers, show how she adeptly mines her bi-cultural background for comic ends. The show, a real joy to watch, points to the ills of the much beleaguered NHS, and in particular to the challenging working life of an unusual employee, who leads a double life in a big London hospital and on the comedy circuits.