Machina

In the prologue to Malcostume Compagnia Teatrale’s show Machina, the company explains that the word ‘machina’ roughly translates to machine or structure and the company’s name ‘Malcostume’ also translates to badly behaved. With this in mind, it’s clear that company’s intention is to subvert and challenge the traditional format and structure of commedia dell’arte. It’s an interesting and amusing concept that I’d be intrigued to see developed further but, unfortunately, a few troublesome components mean that it doesn’t entirely work together as a whole.

An imaginative piece of theatre

Machina is performed by a single actor with the aid of multiple screens behind him, onto which videos of the whole dramatis personae are projected (also played by the same actor). It’s a striking and original concept, certainly pushing the bounds of what commedia dell’arte can be or do – traditionally actors would play multiple roles by switching masks, but this takes it to the next level, resulting in some fantastic comedic moments. The actor both adheres to stereotypical plots and the stock characters of commedia dell’arte, such as the swaggering and arrogant Capitan and the cantankerous old man, Pantalone, whilst also commenting on the structures and mocking the characters that he’s playing. It’s funny, but it is never entirely clear what the company hopes to achieve, other than make us consider narrative structures and commedia dell’arte as a contemporary art form.

Additionally, there are some technical issues that detract from the performance. For example, as Machina is performed in English and Italian, there are surtitles projected above the stage, meaning one can either watch the energetic performance or read the surtitles to know what is being said, which interrupts the flow of the performance. Also, many of the voiceovers for the projected characters are much too loud and the sound quality is rather poor, making it difficult to understand what they are saying, while blocking the sound of the actor onstage.

It’s a shame that these technical issues arose, because Machina is an imaginative piece of theatre that does push the boundaries of how classical and contemporary theatre styles can coexist; it just requires more rigour and reworking.

Reviews by Liam Rees

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Performances

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The Blurb

An extravagant presenter introduces a contrived comedic plot: two lovers, an old father, a suitor... Everything seems familiar, but something unexpected is coming. From within the machine-like workings of a cliche, feel good TV show, revolution is brewing: a fight against the Tyranny of Happiness. Can the Machina and its predefined schemes be destroyed by these primordial stirrings? Or is rebellion only the umpteenth gear of the machine? Innovatively combining video projection and Commedia dell'Arte, this is a spellbinding performance blending exquisite stagecraft with a searching philosophy. English and Italian (with English subtitles).