Absolutely! (perhaps), Wyndham's Theatre, London

Jokes overshadow poignancy of relationships
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Far better than its oafish new title would suggest, Luigi Pirandello's Right You Are (If You Think You Are) is not only one of the most important plays of the 20th century, it's also extraordinarily prescient.

This work about the fragility and mutability of identity was written in 1917 but belongs to the age of Beckett. With Pirandello, the questions "What is real?" and "What is truth?" are only the first of many.

Signora Frola, an elderly widow, excites the suspicion and concern of her neighbours by living alone, though her daughter and son-in-law have a flat near by. Her son-in-law visits frequently, but her daughter never comes to see her; indeed, she never leaves her home. Is she ill? A prisoner? Why does the man leave his wife alone and spend so much time with his mother-in-law?One by one the participants in this strange drama appear and tell their story. The widow says her son is mad; her son-in-law makes her out to be the madwoman.

The two are brought face to face, but their stories interweave. The daughter/wife is sent for, but the mystery only grows.

The title is much the worst line in Martin Sherman's fluid adaptation, but putting Pirandello's classical language into colloquial speech is a leap almost as great as using English in place of Italian. What's important here is not the comedy, which this version emphasises, but the poignancy of not knowing who oneself is, and who others really are.

Formal diction, which would make the audience work a bit, would have made us involve ourselves more deeply than the devices of having rows of spectators on the stage or planting an actor in the audience. The superficiality of the humour also plays down the disquieting nature of the play, which does not simply state, as so many others do, that our identities are vulnerable, but asks what our response to this should be.

Franco Zeffirelli's direction is ponderous, and his set - a metal screen in front of a mosaic beneath 36 spotlights in a frame - is oppressively vulgar, and Raimonda Gaetani's costumes are so dowdy that I kept thinking they were making some point that I missed.

But Oliver Ford Davies as a gruff, sardonic raisonneur is just right, and Joan Plowright, as Signora Frola gives the play the brush of a dove's wing. Though there is much to laugh at in the conflicting accounts and bewildered characters, what we remember are not the jokes but Pirandello's metaphor of human relationships: ghosts chasing one another in a labyrinth.