Trumpets and Raspberries

Given the vast repertoire of plays available to theatre companies one often wonders how they decide on what to perform next and why: in this case, the somewhat lesser-known work by the hugely demanding Dario Fo, Trumpets and Raspberries (Clacson, Trombette e Pernacchi). There were certainly easier options available to Wayward Theatre Productions who have taken on the challenge of reviving this 1981 play, historically entrenched in teh 70's, at Barons Court Theatre, Curtain Up and it’s not gone well, starting with choice of venue.

The cast enter spiritedly into the farce.

The place has one of the smaller stages among the many London theatre pubs, yet it can often fit the bill perfectly, as seen, for example, in A Butcher of Distinction with a cast of three. Fitting nine actors and a hospital bed complete with body into its confines is ambitious to say the least. Other cluttered scenes present a real hazard, as illustrated when one of the cast fell over a small table and the performance was temporarily stopped. Accidents happen, but this play with all its clowning around just needs more space, as seen in the recent highly successful production of Fo's Accidental Death of a Anrchist down the road at the Lyric, Hammersmith.

Fo’s plot clearly relates to the 1978 kidnap of Italian prime minister Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades, but substitutes for him Gianni Agnelli, the wealthy head of the Fiat corporation from 1966 to 2003, so that Antonio can be one of his employees who becomes embroiled in a a failed kidnap attempt and also rail againg the evils of capitalism. Antonio, attempts to rescue Agnelli, but flees the scene in a hail of bullets, leaving his jacket on Agnelli's body. Unrecognisable, the hospital begins reconstructive surgery on the largely missing face of Agnelli assuming him to be Antonio who is now branded a terrorist. Agnelli recovers but with the face of Antonio. With two Antonio’s in the frame the scene is set for the classic farcical mixups of mistaken identity.

Fo’s play is rooted in the Italian, indeed mainland European, terrorist ethos of the period. He realised that this setting might not survive the test time and so unlike more protective playwrights he encouraged future directors to adapt and rewrite to to make the socialist, anti-capitalist agenda relevant to a new age. Unfortunately, this opportunity has not been seized upon. An aside about COVID and a passing reference to a UK tabloid really doesn’t bring it into the politics of today or the ongoing battle of the working class against the elitism of a stratified society and the rule of corporations. Admittedly, that is hard to do in country that awaits the coronation of its next monarch and refuses to espouse a left-wing agenda.

The productions redeeming feature is the energy of the cast, but even this doesn’t always contribute to the script’s delivery. The shouting of lines becomes wearisome, especially given the confined nature of the venue. Alex Hayden J Smith loudly gives an over-the-top, eccentric performance as both Agnelli and Antoni. Thea Rubina as his wife is marginally more controlled with nuanced delivery in the creation of a character full of both outrage and humour. Ian Crosson as the Doctoris is more balanced in a powerfully comic and considered performance as the eccentric Germanic professor. The cast enter spiritedly into the farce. It’s a disappointment, therefore that the potentially hilarious nose-feeding scene that is imaginatively devised falls flat because the ingenious contraption can’t be properly affixed and simply doesn’t work.

That the evening drags on for two hours, forty-five minutes simply adds to the unfortunate shortcomings of the production.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

A madcap political satire and farce about corruption and hypocrisy in high places and the plight of the common man versus the rich elites and the too-powerful corporations and institutions. Set in politically turbulent 1980s Italy, Antonio is a downtrodden shop steward at the Fiat Factory where Gianni Agnelli is the conceited, fabulously wealthy, famous boss.

During a bungled kidnap attempt of Agnelli, presumed to be by Left-wing terrorists, Antonio, an innocent bystander, saves him without realizing who he is. The hospital treating Agnelli, together with the authorities, believes their severely disfigured patient to be Antonio, and that he is one of the terrorists involved in the kidnap. It is a case of mistaken identity and absolute mayhem ensues in true Fo style!

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