The Italians – Belvoir’s 25A Theatre (NSW)
Written by Danny Ball, Directed by Riley Spadaro
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
25A Theatre, Belvoir Street Until 6th November Tickets: https://belvoir.com.au/productions/the-italians/
As a young lad, I never fully realised the joy of celebrating my Grandfather’s Italian heritage. Even the fact that we called him ‘Grandad’ instead of ‘Nonno’ was enough to negate any interest. Skip to a much more adult-like state of mind (somewhat) and I miss every chance I didn’t take to ask him to teach me, to bring me into his culture and show me a slice of the world he left behind when he moved to Australia. Danny Ball’s The Italians is a joyously chaotic statement that defies the notions of assimilation and brings to the surface 75 minutes of insanely raucous, frenzied, and over-the-top fun that makes me wish even more to indulge in being an Italian. Andiamo!
Set and costume design by Grace Deacon welcomes you into east suburbia of Sydney. Green speckled walls reflect into the 25A Theatre on a mostly bare stage, apart from the many, many pictures of Jesus and the Mother Mary staring down at you above an archway. Deacon’s costumes are over the top when they need to be, and contemporary to create the world.
Ball’s writing (who also stars alongside his talented cast) is quick, sly and glorifies Italian culture in all its energetic and emotional glory. We are lured in on the simple premise of a family dinner being played over a game of cards, Deborah Galanos’ matriarch, Giovanna, walks around to the audience handing out freshly baked Italian biscotti, while Tony Poli’s patriarch, Gaetano, dances with his son, Sal (Danny Ball) and his boyfriend, Joe (Brandon Scane).
At first, the play seems, well, relatively normal. A secret marriage proposal is set up, the prospect of buying a house in Bondi is established, and the motif of class is imbedded in Ball’s characters. It’s not until the entrance of the standout performance by Emma O’Sullivan and a hundreds and thousands speckled Tiramisù that things suddenly dial up to one hundred and the play really finds its frenetic footing. You may be able to tell I’m trying to not give away the plot too much; you have to see The Italians to revel in it yourself.
Direction by Riley Spadaro keeps the pacing quick and the humour fresh. Spadaro has a knack for controlling the chaos that unfolds on stage and containing it, strategically pointed right at the audiences’ funny bone. Whether it be O’Sullivan’s flamboyant iteration of the Madonna, Philip D’Ambrosio’s panamax pushing Nonna, or the Romeo and Juliet farce between Sal’s younger sister, Maria (hilariously played by Amy Hack) and a very ‘woggy’ plumber, Mikey, each gag is landed with superb timing.
The Italians is as fresh and delectable as a fresh biscotti, as zany and energetic as an Italian espresso with the depraved humour brought on by a shot of Grappa.
Props needs to go to this insane cast who manage to keep the insanity under control and never allow themselves to break character. It’s clear that each and every one of them is having as much fun as we are watching it, and it's this infectious joy that really gives The Italians its heart.
There are gags aplenty in Ball’s script, but sometimes it falls under the weight of its own desire to be funny that it can sometimes come off as irreverent in parts. Ball sets up a lot of comments on the idea of assimilation and the cultural tensions between the North and South of Italy that become recurring gags and plot twists, but it could further implement a stronger message that the audience can leave with, along with the sore cheeks from laughing.
The Italians is as fresh and delectable as a fresh biscotti, as zany and energetic as an Italian espresso with the depraved humour brought on by a shot of Grappa. If my Grandfather were still around, I can imagine he too would have had as much fun as I did, or had as big a smile as the little old Nonna who sat in the front row of this performance.
This is one to catch before it leaves Belvoir Street. Prepare for insanity and a lot of laughs. Saluti!
CAST DANNY BALL PHILIP D’AMBROSIO DEBORAH GALANOS AMY HACK JONATHAN LAGUDI EMMA O’SULLIVAN BRANDON SCANE TONY POLI
CREATIVES DANNY BALL WRITER & PRODUCER RILEY SPADARO DIRECTOR GRACE DEACON SET DESIGNER PHOEBE PILCHER LIGHTING DESIGNER LUKE DI SOMMA COMPOSER AMY HACK MOVEMENT DIRECTOR/CHOREOGRAPHER THOMAS DE ANGELIS DRAMATURG & PRODUCER ELIZABETH GUY STAGE MANAGER CAMERON HILL-HARRISON ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER PHILIP D’AMBROSIO PRODUCER