Monday, 9 November 1998

Teatro, Nov 9,1998

By Renato Cuocolo & Irene Vela
 Playhouse October 21 – 24, 1998

We are fascinated by our immigrant backgrounds whether they are recent arrivals, second generation, or fifth generation settlers and convicts.  This undying interest demonstrates that the potential exploration of the migrant experience as theatre is limitless. Renato Cuocolo, director or IRRA Theatre, continues his penetration of stories and characters that emerge from observation and personal experience as a Italian migrant.

Teatro is the third in Cuocolo's Exile Trilogy and his second collaboration with composer, Irene Vela, Canto Coro and musical director, Mark Dunbar. The first collaboration was the very successful Little City.

Teatro does not function as a musical or strictly as a piece of theatre. As in an opera, the score provides the emotional layering to a simple story although there are other strata to the narrative.

One level is our reality: a choir (Canto Coro) has come to rehearse a musical version of I Love A Sunburnt Country on stage for an invited audience under the eagle eye of their Director/Conductor (David Pledger). An obsequious old Stage Manager prepares the space and fawns on the Director.

The singers introduce themselves in their real, culturally diverse identity. Their own stories filter through as do images from a tragic immigrant couple who died years ago

Within the choir are dissenting voices objecting to the repetitious rehearsal and irrelevance of this old-fashioned, unrepresentative poem set to music. The first rumbles of mutiny come from a single voice (Elly Varrenti) who believes it does not reflect their mixed cultural nature.

They are patronised by the Director who is excited by working with an ethnic choir. Mistake! "We're not an ethnic choir!" "This is what we want to sing!" "I want to sing in my own language!"

Teatro is warm and charming in its simplicity and Vela's music is evocative. Set in a sea of duck feathers, the light swims and th floor moves. I pity singers with fluff in their throats.

The narrative threads need further development and parts are awkward and uncomfortable.  The occasional political statements are simplistic and the earlier generation Aussies get a verbal beating with no justification apart from the paternalistic attitude of the "on stage" Director.

Cuocolo always challenges the theatrical convention and shatters one's expectation of theatre. It craves more of the orchestration of the choir as a physical mass to kick it into a more visually enthralling performance.

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