Lyttelton, NT, London
Theatre review: Liola - An unexpected delight from the National
Thursday 08 August 2013
Pirandello described this play as a comedy “full of songs and sunshine...so light-hearted it doesn't seem like one of my works” and, to be sure, it will come as quite a surprise to anyone expecting the usual tricksy, meta-theatrical meditations on the relativity of truth and the deceptiveness of personal identity et al.
But the writer had published many short stories of Sicilian rural life before his relatively late success as a dramatist and Liola (1916) has more in common with these than with the classic Pirandello of Six Characters in Search of an Author.
Using a new version by Tanya Ronder, Richard Eyre's beautifully judged production keeps the sun-baked Sicilian setting (a gnarled olive tree overhangs the wooden platform that constitutes the village square in Anthony Ward's strong, simple design) but his excellent cast give an Irish accent to the proceedings. Because of emigration through poverty, this is a world numerically dominated by the women who have gathered to shell the almond crop.
The two male characters are comically polar opposites. Rory Keenan oozes cocky charm and is wonderfully at ease in his own flesh as the free-spirited Liola who has already fathered three sons by as many girls, whereas James Hayes's crabbed landowner Simone still has no heir after five years of marriage to the lovely, abused Mita (Lisa Dwyer Hogg). It's a token of his frustration that when a young relative of his falls pregnant by Liola, he's prepared to claim that the child is his. But Liola, who has long loved Mita, realises that this is a game that can be played more than once and in her interest.
The production, which is part of the Travelex £12 season, is suffused with Orlando Gough's attractive Balkan-tinged music played by an onstage gypsy band who, amusingly, underline how Liola has the world on a string by striking up and stopping at his whim like some personal backing group. Morally, the play is meant to be a bit equivocal all round and one notices here how, once she has her own lie to brazen out, the vulnerable Mita becomes discomfitingly hard-eyed and unsmiling. In a terrifically animated and convincing ensemble, Rosaleen Linehan brings a splendidly sardonic glint to her elderly aunt Gesa and Aisling O'Sullivan revs into a roaring termagant as the furious, scheming mother of her foiled rival. The mood is hauntingly amplified by the songs such as “That's How It Is”, the chorus of unillusioned shrugging acceptance with which the show closes. An unexpected delight.
To Nov 6; 0207 452 3000
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 2 Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
- 3 Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
- 4 Refugee crisis: Aylan's life was full of fear - in death, he is part of 'humanity washed ashore'
- 5 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 100,000 back our campaign
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up