Styled as a farce, and performed in an intimate space, The Italian Comedy left this reviewer reminiscing over the days of The Castanet Club in Newcastle, where very clever people realised incredible characters in a show that evolved night after night.
The comparison is not direct of course, as the foundation of The Italian Comedy lies heavy in the perfect script, that apparently took 20 years to develop.
Writers Steven Hopley and Alexander Gibbs matched wits in trying to out-comedy each other by creating character names which are wide open to puns and one-liners that rival the best of 'Dad Jokes' but at a higher intellectual plane. This resurrected the centuries old humour artform of commedia dell’arte into a rapid fire all-guns-blazing performance about a Venice fashion store owner who hides a political dissident as a mannequin.
While early impressions from the 4th row of seats might create a level of discomfort over the use of stereotyped Euro accents to 'enhance' the comedy, the reason for doing so soon becomes clear. Some characters are required to pass themselves off as impersonations of each other (to avoid detection, arrest, death and various other hazards), and as such identify their immediate roles according the accent they use, as well as via costuming.
And if that sounds confusing, it's a major part of the story, as the characters themselves are sometimes found in compromising positions by others, with the situation subsequently attributed to the innocent.
With slight audience participation in the form of call-outs, the performers appear to indulge in some liberty, throwing asides to the crowd, delivered in such ad-hoc fashion it's impossible to believe they actually might be timed and scripted. And this is where the ensemble cast stands-out. Some have performed together with Something Wicked in the past. Other are seasoned in this regard. The camaraderie is not only apparent within the cast, but within the immediate rapport and respect between the cast and the audience as well.
This appreciation might also be due to the original premiere venue for this play, the Meraki Arts Bar in Darlinghurst, suddenly closing just days before opening night. “We had just finished bumping in our set and were about to start our dress rehearsal when we were given the news,” said Hopley, who is also directing the piece. “The cast and crew were all devastated.”
However, 107 Projects in Redfern came to the rescue, providing the team with a new home at short notice. “The support we’ve received from everyone within the industry has been amazing,” said Hopley. “It’s been a long time coming, but this is a fabulously fun piece, and we can’t wait to share it with an audience.”
Of course, there's very little of Hopley's writing that is without cause. The underlying villain of the show is a demon capitalist, hell bent on destroying competition and exploiting the working class. This is a political statement found in much of Hopley writings, recently seen in his other works A Fortunate Few and Monopoly.
This is great theatre. Fun, well-paced, intelligently written, a bang-on cast, all of which leaves the audience with a sense of satisfaction. While the quick-witted dialogue likely needs too much attention to perform this piece in a casual bar, it is none-the-less easily at home both within a cabaret venue, or a 1000 seater.
Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou
Witten by Steven Hopley and Alexander Gibbs
Directed by Steven Hopley