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The Fan (Susan Elkin reviews)

The Fan

Carlo Goldoni, adapted by G Ritter and Helen Zimmern

Directed by Flavi Di Saverio

Tower Theatre, Stoke Newington

Star rating: 4

It is the job of a critic to assess the worth of a production as a show of its type. Obviously, you don’t try to compare Polka Theatre’s Ten in a Bed with Max Webster’s Macbeth or the panto at Worthing with Hamilton although they may end up with the same star rating.

Well, I can’t think of many community companies who would be brave enough to take on eighteenth century Commedia, in a sometimes creaky translation, and run with it as cheerfully as Tower Theatre does with The Fan. It is, literally, incomparable.

Apart from Richard Bean’s famous One Man, Two Guvnors which reworked The Servant of Two Masters for the National Theatre and a memorable RSC production of The Venetian Twins in 1993,  Goldoni hasn’t crossed my radar much anyway. So this production at Tower Theatre seems freshly novel and it has an unusual charm which stems, I think, from an Italian-Argentinian director working with a gloriously diverse cast of fourteen whose backgrounds range across several continents.

The titular fan is a symbol of love and intrigue which passes through several hands, gets lost, hidden and argued about in a comedy about marriage that asks lots of questions about who should be with whom. Giannina (Teo Mechetuic) should definitely be with cobbler Crespino (Iacopo Farsusi) because – a bit like Susanna and Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro – they really love each other unlike the rest of the crowd, most of whom are  jockeying for prestige and money.

This is Commedia so it’s gorgeously stylised. As the audience finds seats at the start, the entire cast is on stage (prettily lit, brick floor) frozen in a tableau engaged in an activity such as spinning, drinking coffee or sweeping. It looks like a Dutch, or maybe Italian, courtyard painting and is very effective – especially when the action starts and they set up a rhythm with their teaspoons, broom, hammer and so forth and suddenly, it’s like Stomp. It’s so interesting the way these theatrical traditions richochet, or can be made to, from one genre to another. The second half starts well too with a traditional masked dance by five actors retelling the main story. The use of Vivaldi (he was a generation ahead of Goldoni) in quick dramatic bursts alongside other music is inspired too.

Some roles are mostly naturalistic – Mechetuic and Farusi – for example, both talented actors, convince us of the genuineness of their love by communicating (mostly) without exaggerated gesture. Michael Neckham (who hails from Russia, where he did initial actor training, and is also known as Mikhail Ushakov) is, on the other hand, outstanding as Signor Evaristo who minces, tiptoes, gestures in the falsest possible way. It’s a richly commanding performance and very entertaining.

In a generally strong cast there are is also noteworthy work from Sangita Modgil as the aunt of an eligible young woman and from Stephanie Irvine who has huge fun in a character role as fragrant Giannina’s coarse brother. Several of the male parts in this production are, incidentally, played by women and of course that works perfectly.

All in all then, this show is an imaginatively original take on a tradition not likely to be very familiar to modern audiences – and it makes a quirkily jolly evening’s theatre.



Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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