Any lovers of Jean de Florette out there? Well, there’s a new play on the bill at the National Theatre that might tickle your fancy if you’re into that sort of rural village, family orientated saga, with humour and music thrown in to boot.
The story is set in the heart of a tiny Sicilian village, and involves only two men, one old and impotent, the other quite the opposite, and an army of gossiping, giggling, gaggling women who all work for the former but have their eyes on the latter. The impotent old man, Uncle Simone, is the wealthiest landowner in the area but hasn't produced any children, and blames his barrenness on his young wife, Mita, who has weathered his anger for five years. When the younger man, Liolà, gets yet another girl in the village pregnant, the disgraced girl and her desperate mother form a plan, which brings out meek Mita’s true colours and determination.
This play is a lot of fun. There’s a band of country musicians that prompt the actors to break into song and dance every now and then in quite a natural way, and everyone inexplicably has Irish accents (set in Italy but alright, it seemed to work). The minor characters are brilliant; they have big personalities, big tempers, and are the stars of the stage in that they bring all the atmosphere and colour to the play.
Sometimes the solo singing is a little questionable (we found ourselves wondering why they didn’t stick to just acting when the dialogue is so good), and the ending also feels inconclusive (everyone is in a messy pickle, and then instead of redemption there’s a big old song about ‘that’s how it is’, which may be true to life but doesn’t necessarily make for a rounded plot), but overall it’s a charming, fun little play and a great introduction to Sicilian playwright Luigi Pirandello, who himself admitted that the play is ‘so light-hearted it doesn’t seem like one of my works’.
Liolà is running now at the National Theatre until 6 November 2013. Tickets £12-£34. For more information or to book see the National Theatre website. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary press ticket.