Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 23 – Nov 6, 2022
Playwright: Danny Ball
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Danny Ball, Philip D’ambrosio, Nic English, Deborah Galanos, Amy Hack, Emma O’Sullivan, Brandon Scane, Tony Poli
Images by Katherine Griffiths
Joe and Sal are very much in love, and just as they approach bourgeois heaven with impending nuptials and a home in North Bondi, Joe’s estranged cousin Luca materialises out of the blue to wreak havoc. Danny Ball’s The Italians too is a disruptor of middle class style and taste. The play seeks to assert a comedic sensibility that feels characteristic of an Italian-Australian identity, one that is bold and brassy, slightly crass in tone, and with a hint of irreverence. It is deliberately chaotic and sometimes incongruent, but always joyous and relentlessly playful.
Riley Spadaro’s direction introduces a distinct campness to this show that centres around a gay couple, including song and dance numbers that exist solely to entertain. It is discernible that The Italians wishes to break constrictive moulds, and deconstruct conventions of theatre-making that may have become too staid. It contributes to discussions about the decolonisation of the art form, and what it means to create Australian theatre, in this moment of increased awareness, around the legitimacy of minority cultures.
Set design by Grace Deacon features a vibrant wallpaper that establishes from the outset, an aesthetic that is almost garish, but knowingly so. Her costumes reflect an interest in archetypes, but are perhaps too predictable with the approach taken, for these larger than life characters. Phoebe Pilcher’s lights are delightful and dynamic, as they explore the possibilities of manufacturing, for a small space, something a little heightened and absurd. Also memorable are Luke Di Somma’s sound and music, especially when referencing soap opera traditions, for sequences that revel in the melodrama of people’s lives in The Italians.
Playwright Ball plays Sal, with a flamboyant streak, charming yet comedic, reminiscent of leading men in classic European film. Brandon Scane brings a greater sense of realism as Joe, that delivers a feeling of authenticity and universality, for a show that otherwise does become highly, and intentionally, slapstick. Philip D’ambrosio is a noteworthy supporting actor, especially for his turn as Pina, totally hilarious yet so convincing, as an elderly relative with a strange penchant for paracetamol. Performances can be somewhat uneven, in this unapologetically messy affair, but the spiritedness of this jubilant production is unquestionably enchanting.
Interrogating whiteness, is a way to release oneself from the oppressive grip of a culture obsessed with status and class. In The Italians, we observe an understanding of complexities around the proximity to whiteness, that certain Europeans experience. Joe and Sal are young white men, but being Italian and being gay, they know instinctively that the hierarchies that work surreptitiously on this land, are predicated on the unjust marginalisation of many who are deemed “less than”. They then have a choice, to lean on their whiteness, or to find ways to dismantle the injustices that are so thoroughly entrenched within all the systems that matter.