Arlecchino

Marcello Magni
Battersea Arts Centre
(2003)

Magni, posing as a 20th century actor, takes us back in time on a magical bicycle on a quest for the origins of Harlequin: Arlecchino in his initial manifestation in the 16th century. With the help of a Commedia dell'Arte mask, made by the masters themselves, Amleto and Donato Sartori, he transforms effortlessly into the characters whom as a conglomerate form the basis for that roguish anti-hero of comedy: the earthy 15th century peasant farmer; the 16th century battle-field scavenger who pulls a scam on our traveller and succeeds in stealing his mobile phone and camcorder; the more sophisticated servant-wit of Marivaux's 18th century Parisian theatre. Eventually, arriving back in his 21st century flat he discovers he's brought Arlecchino with him and the irrepressible scamp wreaks a whirlwind of comic havoc.

It is all performed with consummate skill in the spirit of the original and very physical improvised lazzi of commedia tradition, inventive, hilariously funny and challenging to the imagination. Magni plays all the characters, interchanging fluidly and rapidly in physicality, voice, language and costume, with or without mask. It is really very clever, witty and engaging, but his great forte lies in his capacity to work with the audience. He had us clucking like hens, mooing like cows, taking part in a 15th century war. He climbs over rows of spectators to passionately woo a woman who has captured his heart and draws out his pitiful disappointment to the extent that he has us weeping with laughter. Ever with his eye on the front row he is ready with an aside, a quip, a playful jibe and we go all the way with him willingly. He has us in the palm of his hand ready to do his bidding, eager to make fools of ourselves and roar with laughter. A genuine 21st century Arlecchino.

Marcello Magni was one of the original co-founders of that most wonderful of physical theatre companies Theatre du Complicité and this solo performance has been devised in collaboration with illustrious colleagues Kathryn Hunter and Jozef Houben. The first Complicité company consisted of Le Coq trained performers and this alone should be sufficient to interest Magni in Commedia dell'Arte as Le Coq's discovery of the old Italian performance genre in the '50s made a major contribution to the development of his physical training style and mask work. Magni's Italianate dynamism and musical language provides the vehicle for a thoroughly enjoyable lesson in theatre history and the origins of clowning.

"Arlecchino" plays until 5th May.

Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher