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Trumpets and Raspberries by Dario Fo | Review

To the Curtain Up pub in Comeragh Road to see Trumpets & Raspberries at the Barons Court Theatre. The Curtain is Up but the theatre is most definitely down in the cellar. As I descended the steep steps I felt a Dantesque sense of going down to the underworld. The theatre is in the basement adjacent to the men’s toilets! There is a certain aroma shall we say which hangs in the air. My Italian reference is indeed appropriate for the husband and wife team of Dario Fo and Franca Rame were themselves Italian. Just as no English writer can escape from Shakespeare’s shadow so no Italian writer can avoid Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Trumpets and Raspberries - Alex and Hannah.
Trumpets and Raspberries – Alex and Hannah.

I was attracted to reviewing Trumpets & Raspberries (1981) because I have fond memories of seeing both Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970) and Can’t Pay Won’t Pay (1974) way back in the 1980s at Wyndham’s. Unfortunately, Trumpets & Raspberries does not live up to these two masterpieces. Why is this? It’s just not very funny. The plot doesn’t work. When a character steps forward and makes a fifteen-minute speech explaining the plot you just know things are not going to go well. The whole 1970s shtick about terrorism, the police, corruption, and kidnapping just feels dated and naff, frankly. But the main problem is the length. At two hours and forty minutes, this production is one hour and forty minutes over the odds. Maybe with some judicious editing and the application of Ockham’s Razor, a one-hour skit could be salvaged from the farrago of nonsense currently on show. There are some comic moments but they in no way justify a two-hour forty minutes investment. For the last hour, I felt like I was in Dante’s Purgatorio not Fo’s farcical world of slapstick comedy. And this is all the more disappointing because the ingredients of a good farce are certainly there. Drawing on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters, The Keystone Cops, Chaplin’s Modern Times, and Joe Orton’s sexual send-ups I would’ve thought that there was more than enough in the mix to create something worthwhile. Fo and Rame saw themselves as radicals who could undermine the capitalist world with farce, comedy, and anarchic slapstick. Fair enough. But for that, you need two things going for you. First, is a farce that is genuinely entertaining. And second, a message. Well, Trumpets and Raspberries has neither. I’ve said why I think the play isn’t funny. This just leaves the message. The big reveal comes after two hours and thirty minutes when the anti-hero Agnelli stands on a chair and delivers the message. Well, I never. I don’t need to sit through almost three hours to be told something that is so obvious. I’m afraid that I shall have to blow raspberries at Trumpets & Raspberries.

But the problem(s) lies with the writers. The actors are very fine. They do their level best (in a space where you can not swing an anarchist) to animate the text but they have been given an impossible task. There are some fine cameos from Ian Crosson as the Doctor in the plastic surgery scenes. He has what appeared to me to be a nutty German professor-type accent which works well to create the atmosphere of a crazy unpredictable world. He makes comic mayhem with his phallic syringes and various bottoms. Alex Hayden J Smith is energetic and effervescent as both Antonio and Agnelli. He reminded me of James Corden’s recent split role in One Master, Two Guvnors. But for me, the stand-out performance is that of Thea Rubina as the wife, Rosa. She has that wonderful Ortonesque ability to switch from pseudo-posh to vulgar vernacular the second she loses her temper and reverts to being common. There is one moment of true farce that ought to be the highlight of the evening, but it gets lost in the two hours and forty-five minutes. It’s a pastiche of force-feeding a prisoner and involves a Heath Robinsonesque scheme reminiscent of Chaplin getting swallowed up by the conveyor belt in Modern Times.

2 gold stars

Review by John O’Brien

A madcap political satire and farce about corruption and hypocrisy in high places and the plight of the common man versus the rich elites and the too-powerful corporations and institutions. Set in politically turbulent 1980s Italy, Antonio is a downtrodden shop steward at the Fiat Factory where Gianni Agnelli is the conceited, fabulously wealthy, famous boss.

During a bungled kidnap attempt of Agnelli, presumed to be by Left-wing terrorists, Antonio an innocent bystander, saves him without realizing who he is. The hospital treating Agnelli, together with the authorities, believes their severely disfigured patient to be Antonio, and that he is one of the terrorists involved in the kidnap. It is a case of mistaken identity and absolute mayhem ensues in true Fo style!

Trumpets and Raspberries
by Dario Fo
18 April – 6 May 2023

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  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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2 thoughts on “Trumpets and Raspberries by Dario Fo | Review”

  1. Interesting review. I saw the play last night and was blown away – its a tremendous performance by the cast of a lesser known Dario Fo piece, but it is also political theatre and farce of the highest order. Brilliant. Ian Crosson is at his most energetic and hilarious, a tour de force, as are the rest of the cast. However, the second half really needs some dramatic cuts, to sharpen up the whole piece and sped along the action. Grab tickets while you can.

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