Diary of an Expat makes a striking impression even before Cecilia Gragnani enters the stage for her solo play at the Rialto Theatre, directed by Katharina Reinthaller. Whereas Fringe shows at Brighton or anywhere else usually keep their sets to a minimum, here we enter to see a black and white city-scape made from cut-out and stacked, collapsible cardboard boxes that fills the stage. It’s a simple technique that creates a startling impression.
passionate interaction and humorous tales
The play’s title is perhaps deceptive.The expat in this case is not someone from the UK living overseas, but an Italian immigrant who, in her eyes and those of her family and friends back home, has become an expat. It’s based on Gragnani’s experience and those of others in a similar position who, often amusingly, work their way through Life in the United Kingdom, the government’s ‘official study guide’ and its companion volume of ‘practice question and answers’ in preparation for taking the test to achieve British citizenship or settlement in the UK. It’s a fascinating tome, with questions that become embarrassing when British citizens in the audience are unable to answer them or leaves one pondering why anyone would need to know that in order to live in the UK.
Gragnani has an endearing personality and she combines passionate interaction and humorous tales of growing into life in her newly adopted country to create a delightful piece of theatre. She revels in learning English pronunciation and making linguistic gaffes, how to stand properly in a queue, the importance of talking about the weather and the joys of sausage rolls. She’s a quick learner and all is going well until the Brexit vote is announced. It forms a watershed in her life and the play. The tone changes and a new era is ushered in. Where does it leave her dream and the dreams of millions more expats?
This well-crafted show is not simply entertaining, it also provides insights into the efforts and devotion of people negotiating the hurdles towards citizenship and questions the sort of society the Brits want to create. The production is far more thrilling than the title suggests. I'd prefer, say, An Italian in London, because that's what it's about.