Mike Maran is at his very best here. This show about the experience of the Italians in Edinburgh, told mainly through the story of Alfonso Crolla of delicatessen and restaurant Valvona & Crolla fame, is a tale filled with joy and families, but also deep sadness and loss. Maran’s artistry is on full display here but is never, as it were, seen: only felt. Savoured. Relished. And its fruits are remembered well after you’ve left the mouth-watering scene.
If you’ve never seen Mike Maran in action, change that today.
The marvellous David Vernon opens the show. His accordion draws us in for Maran to sweep us up and transport us to 1930s Scotland and the big annual Italian picnics. “Italians from all over Scotland would close their shops and come to Alva Glen to eat and drink together, to play football, run races, and have a tug of war.” We watch a Kodak Safety Film from the period of one such party, and Maran’s narration is measured to perfection. He knows precisely, instinctively, when to speak and just how much to say. So entrancing is he that someone - forgetting he is in the middle of a theatrical performance - spontaneously chips in, “Do you still have these picnics?” Mike answers, “Yes. Yes, we do,” and gives him details. The audience is spellbound.
The show – though that seems almost too impersonal, too distancing a word for what we all experience together – takes us back a hundred years, to when the villagers of what would later become Italy left for Britain to find work and make new lives. They brought Italy with them, many of these former shepherds setting up businesses. His demonstration of ice cream manufacture and other food production informs as much as it entertains.
We hear how these well-integrated immigrant families became “enemies of the state” in the blinking of an eye when war was declared, how their relationship with the Scots changed beyond recognition. He tells of the dreadful suffering at the sinking of the Arandora Star, the prison ship deporting Italian men to Canada, leaving their wives to fend for the children and run their businesses.
Politics and émigré histories weave a tapestry worthy of the finest wool these shepherds produced, but it all feels so very touchingly familiar in the hands of this skilled teller of tales.
I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s certainly a joyous surprise to us all. Everything comes full circle here.
If you’ve never seen Mike Maran in action, change that today. If you’ve seen other shows of his, then come along to this one. If you’ve seen this one before, maybe come back in any case. It’s so rich that it merits it.