Here's a Fringe rarity: a show that's written, performed by and about the people of Edinburgh. Valvona & Crolla's two-man, one accordion show is the story of Alfonso Crolla, founder of Leith Walk's popular Italian restaurant and deli. This twentieth anniversary production is a gentle rollick through history that explores national identities, family ties and food, shedding light on Scotland's sizeable Italian community. It's staged in the restaurant itself which is a short stroll away from the main hub of venues, giving it a satisfying sense of immediacy while providing welcome respite from the clamour of Old Town and the Mile.
Writer and performer Mike Maran, a 'fringe veteran', makes a charismatic and amiable host. He kicks off the evening with a home movie of Alfonso on an annual country picnic with other Scottish-Italian families. The video flickers and at one point stops altogether - while his technician apologises, Maran continues to work the audience. Wine in hand, most of them are clearly having a good time and comfortable enough to talk right back to him - 'what year would that be?' someone calls out when Maran shows a clip and another points out a man in the hazy, coloured film: 'that's my uncle Eddie'.
As a shepherd, corporal and ice-cream maker, Crolla cuts an interesting figure whose story keeps the crowd listening and laughing for the duration. There are touching moments and an unexpected tragic turn when we reach 1940, as local Italians were persecuted and eventually detained after Mussolini's declaration of war on Britain and France. Many shops and restaurants were vandalized in an effort to intimidate their owners and the board over one of Valvona & Crolla's windows remains, which we're invited to look at on our way out.
The story is affectionately recounted by Maran, with some enjoyable if slightly off-key songs injecting a lively energy into proceedings and quaint musical accompaniment throughout. It's also imaginatively staged, with a filing cabinet (Alfonso's own) full of props that our host periodically gets out to add a bit of drama. Finally, it's topped off with some audience participation and those game enough to join Maran on stage are given a glass of Chianti for their trouble.
The traditional storytelling and general homespun feel of the piece offers a refreshing change in a festival that can seem obsessed by youth and newness and occasionally weighed down with pretension. Italia 'n' Caledonia's a heartfelt celebration of cultures coming together and makes an entertaining pre or post-dinner show if you fancy a story and a snack a little off the beaten track.