In the prologue to Malcostume Compagnia Teatrale’s show
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.