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Mistero Buffo at The Italian Theatre Festival | Print Room at The Coronet

Mistero Buffo - Matthias Martelli
Mistero Buffo – Matthias Martelli

Nothing is more dangerous than saying something that might be true” (Anonymous).
On 30th and 31st August, The Print Room at the Coronet presented the Italian Theatrical Festival 2018 in partnership with the Italian Cultural Institute in London. As theatregoers, we are truly indebted to the festival for bringing to us Mistero Buffo, Dario Fo’s comical mystery play, written in 1969, that offers a highly grotesque mocking of religious doctrine and its figures of reverence. As a political activist, iconoclast and, in 1997, winner of the Nobel prize in literature, Fo devoted his life and his theatrical work to the continual questioning of the abuse of power by those who gripped tightly the reins of power, whether that be the State or, endemic in Italy, the Holy Roman Catholic Church with its political base in Rome.

Evidently, those who were seated in the higher echelons of the Catholic Church recognised the seeds of truth contained in Mistero Buffo when following a televised production in 1977, declared it to be the most blasphemous work in Italy’s history, banning Fo from Italian television for more than a decade.

And if that wasn’t a strong enough condemnation, consider that Fo and his wife, Franca Rame, were denied entry to the United States on at least two occasions. To justify its refusal, the US government accused Fo of aiding and abetting terrorism, a groundless charge most likely brought about by the increased popularity of Fo’s plays in America. Still, it’s hard to believe that the most powerful democracy on earth was afraid of an Italian playwright. Which leads us to the current revival of Mistero Buffo.

Although the horrors of injustice will always be with us, the characters who suffer under its yoke tend to shift from one oppressed group to another. To mesh the play’s satirical humour with today’s politics, the director of its current production, Eugenio Allegri, and its sole actor, Matthias Martelli, approached Fo in 2016 to ask permission for some changes they considered to be faithful to the original work. They were granted permission on 3rd October 2016, ten days before Dario Fo’s death.

And to speak of the current production is to be at a loss for words, as Martelli’s interpretation of the jongleur soars beyond the heights of genius – both in its devotion to the person of Fo and in his betrayal of him – in making Mistero Buffo a work of art that is now very much Martelli’s own.

It can be said that Martelli’s use of his own body as a form of visual transmogrification – accompanied by a mixture of Italian and Grammelot (a type of sound language) to jump cut between medieval monsters and those they oppress, is nothing short of the most spellbinding piece of physical theatre you are likely to witness in any one lifetime. But don’t take my word for it.

At the end of Martelli’s performance he was summoned back for six curtain calls, so powerful was his performance that the entire audience rose to its feet in thunderous applause and would not let him go. Me too.

5 Star Rating

Review by Loretta Monaco

Written by Dario Fo Directed by Eugenio Allegri With Matthias Martelli
Dario Fo ‘who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the down-trodden’ reads the explanatory statement of the Nobel Prize awarded to him in 1997. Mistero Buffo is considered his masterpiece.

Eugenio Allegri directs Matthias Martelli, a talented young actor of the Teatro della Caduta, in this popular jester play, which has been the inspiration for the story-telling theatre of the last twenty years.

In Mistero Buffo, the actor is alone on stage, with no deceptions, aiming to involve the audience in the theatrical action. Our work originates from a form of theatre which, through body language rendered by sound, with onomatopoeia, with sudden shifts of the rhythm, with mime and the actor’s striking gesticulations, moves from story-telling to interpretation or even just evocation of the characters, converting them, as needed, from servant to master, from destitute to wealthy, from Saint to crook, to illustrate feelings, reactions, relations of that sacred and profane performance called Commedia dell’arte’ Eugenio Allegri.

Production by Teatro Stabile di Torino – Teatro NazionaleTeatro della Caduta. In collaboration with Teatro Fonderia Leopolda and Comune di Follonica. Under the patronage of the Italian Ministry of Culture, Heritage and Activities and Tourism

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