Theatre: A Bench on the Road, Platform, Easterhouse
Italian spirit shines in land where rain never stops
by Allan Radcliffe
This ambitious new piece of theatre, written and directed by Laura Pasetti, is something of a breath of fresh air, offering an exclusively female perspective on Italian-Scottish immigration over the course of a turbulent century. The lively, handsome production, which features beautiful painterly lighting by Manuel Frenda, combines traditional music and a variety of first-person accounts to build a rich portrait of women’s lives across three generations.
Pasetti drew on an archive of hundreds of verbatim recordings collected by the University of Edinburgh as part of the Italo-Scottish Research Cluster project.
We hear, inevitably, of the emotional impact of leaving one’s homeland, mainly to escape grinding poverty, and the struggle to settle and adjust to a strange new country, often in the face of hostility. Though much of the sentiment is familiar, often the turn of phrase is vivid.
“Here the rain never stops,” says one new arrival to the west coast. “When it stops outside, it starts inside.”
The co-production between Charioteer Theatre and the Piccolo Teatro di Milano really finds its feet during the sequence dealing with the rise of fascism in Italy in the 1920s and 30s and its implications for the Italian diaspora. A breathless account of an Italian youth camp, in which the young narrator is swept along with the cause of the “fascist revolution” is contrasted with the hardships experienced by the Italian women living in Scotland during the Second World War, many of whose husbands and sons were interned or deported.
Pasetti addresses this prescient issue with a marked lightness of touch, drawing fine performances from her cast and interweaving the gloomier, sadder passages with infectious, exuberant song-and-dance numbers, all set to wonderful live accordion accompaniment from the musician Caroline Anderson Hussey.
FringeReview Scotland 2016
A Bench On The Road
Charioteer Theatre and Piccolo Teatro di Milano – Teatro d’Europa
Festival: FringeReview Scotland
by Donald Stewart
We have the stories of 3 women, one born in Barga, one in Edinburgh and one in Manchester. Their stories are interlinked from their arrival in Scotland through to the 1950’s and the aftermath of the Second World War. Not shying away from the very real issues, especially of the rise of Il Duce and internment, this has a thematic narrative that celebrates resilience and the values of women in a 21st Century piece of theatre that celebrates so much about feminine solidarity and competitiveness in the 20th Century.
We enter to a tableau that book ends the production with 7 women standing as if stopped in the middle of a train station or a transient place that allows them to hold our attention as we settle. Once they split we have 3 women dressed mainly in black who introduce themselves as the Italian side of this piece whilst 3 others are standing with tartan skirts who become the Scottish side of the coin. An accordionist – and at one point, the one woman band – gives us the music that drives a lot of their stories and passion for their lives. We go through the prejudice they find, the security they crave, the hope of Mussolini, the reality of finding their families divided during World War Two and then the joy of a future in dance, happiness and the laughter returning with which we began.
This is an important piece of theatre not least because it had 7 women performing in it. Their stories are based upon evidence collected by the company, of real life women and true experiences. It gave this a tremendous authenticity and coupled with some fantastic acting we got an evening of entertainment that zipped, sang and was just short of getting us up to dance in the aisles.
The cast deserve a tremendous amount of praise as we got a massive amount of high energy exchanges along with direction that favoured image and spectacle to back up the script. The script, half Italian and half English/Scots was fantastic. It reminded me that Italian is as fast a language as Scots and that it sings even when spoken. There was never a point at which the Italian got in the way of meaning or my understanding and added to my enjoyment as it flew from the stage to my ears.
There was little by way of set but the collection of bags and little artefacts added to the sense of diaspora. You could see this little collection on the back of a horse drawn midnight flit or left at the end of a carousel and with the early 20th Century costumes it gave you a tremendous feeling of the dispossessed which allowed the actors to build their characters in a context.
This was a beautifully pitched piece of theatre and there were plenty in alongside me to see it. There was much to admire in it – a play written specifically for women, a voice that had something to say and was worth listening to and a story that deserves illumination and focus. But I am not here to measure its worthiness. I was there to assess its theatricality. On that score it hit the mark as a tremendously important platform that is well worth seeing and it is to be hoped that it does not disappear onto a dusty shelf.