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Don’t You Dare! at the Voila! Europe 2018 Festival

Don’t You Dare!Some of the material in Don’t You Dare! is, on reflection, on the level of asking whether bears defecate in woods, or whether the Pope practises religion. But that is the point that writer and performer Chiara D’Anna and co-creator and director Baris Celiloglu wish to make (or at least one of them) – much of what was relevant when ‘commedia dell’arte’ first came about in Italian theatre in the sixteenth century is still worth exploring now. It’s a sad indictment on the apparently progressive and forward-thinking world in which we inhabit in the twenty-first century that there is still a fight on, for instance, to address inequalities in society.

A number of characters are performed by D’Anna, sometimes with great aplomb, though a woman of pensionable age is somewhat caricatured as someone with an overarching back and walking stick. Certain scenes are almost entirely in Italian, without surtitles supplied. This did not detract too much from one’s enjoyment of the proceedings, and enough context and explanation were supplied by way of direct addresses to the audience to keep everyone on side. This included a long preamble, in which ‘commedia dell’arte’ was explained, and as the show went on, it was interesting to learn about the various props and techniques used to make each scene happen. The production is therefore very, very accessible.

The production’s programme listing D’Anna as both writer and performer, but she is quick to acknowledge her sources (or, as she would have it, collaborators) which include current political leaders on the world stage. Some are easier to recognise than others, such as an appeal to deal with witches in the sixteenth century by grabbing them ‘by the pussy’, and a Holy Roman Inquisitor declaring that the Catholic Church would be made ‘great again’ by way of their witch hunts and interrogations.

The rapport with the audience is established even before the show got underway: some vigorous and frantic movement in the foyer from D’Anna bemused members of the audience more than anything, though the handshakes and greetings were, perhaps inevitably, more warmly received.

We’re all in this together,” she quotes David Cameron (and/or the 2006 Disney film ‘High School Musical’) – but who is ‘we’ and who are ‘we’ together with? For D’Anna, there’s a clear-cut answer, and not one that comes from any soundbites.

It’s a steadily paced show, perhaps more steadily paced than it ought to have been, as technical issues were subtly papered over at the performance I attended, and in one instance, taken advantage of to achieve a comic effect that wouldn’t otherwise have been there. Such is live performance – and there was even a moment when the audience participation was so enthusiastic it had to be curtailed in order to maintain the show’s running time.

The most engaging character for me, and the most dislikeable one, was a slimy businessman called Gino, who sold relics of the Church by laying out a sales pitch for items with supposed healing properties: to laughter from the audience, one relic was said to cure modernism, post-modernism and ‘even’ pre-modernism. Striking a more sombre note, the show includes an extract from a monologue by Italian actress Franca Rame (1929-2013). D’Anna could not bring herself to explain the background to the extract. But the obituary for Rame in The Guardian tells it like it was: “In 1973 Rame was kidnapped and raped by fascists”.

In the style of the ending of the musical Hair, the audience is invited on stage at the close to join in a celebratory finish. At face value, it seems odd to end on such a happy note, but it works. A highly observant, well-researched and well-performed production.

A theatrical tour-de-force, Don’t You Dare! is an outrageously funny & deeply moving one-woman show combining the irrepressible energy of Commedia dell’Arte with storytelling and biting political satire.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

It’s 1601: a famous actress accused of mesmerising her audiences, stands trial for witchcraft. As the trial unfolds, an entire nation turns against her hypnotised by fear and propaganda. In drawing parallels between the violently oppressive indoctrination of the Inquisition and the hate speech of contemporary politics, Don’t You Dare! invites us to reflect on the witch hunts of present times. Focussing on the demonisation and repression of women, Don’t You Dare! weaves a narrative across centuries of vicious attacks on the arts and freedom of expression.

With gallows humour and Panta Rei Theatre’s unique mix of physical theatre, surreal comedy and storytelling, expect laughter, tears & unforgettable characters.

Produced and presented by Panta Rei Theatre
Written & Performed by Chiara D’Anna
Directed by Baris Celiloglu

16-17th November 19:00 at The Cockpit Theatre
https://voilafestival.co.uk/

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