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As A Man Grows Younger

Howard Colyer
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

In Howard Colyer's As a Man Grows Younger, there is a sensitive portrayal of Italo Svevo, one of Italy's most important 20th century authors.

Embedded within Svevo's story, there is also a chronicle of his birthplace, Trieste, now in Italy but then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

My mother, who was raised from a very young age in Trieste, always claimed that there is no such thing as a pure Triestino.

We are all mongrels she would say—not unkindly: mosaics made up from the foreign genes that came over in ships across the Adriatic to the affluent commercial harbour, that mixed with the native Italian, Slovene, Croat, German and other genes of those who populated the then important town.

Svevo is such a composite. Born Ettore Schmitz, of a German father and an Italian mother, he converted from inherited Judaism to marital Roman Catholicism. He was both a successful businessman and an author, both a capitalist and a socialist.

Svevo's life ran the span of the Austro-Hungarian Empire then outlived it, his last decade playing out in the shadow of post-World War I fascism. The Allies had secretly colluded to award Trieste to Italy and Svevo found himself a liberal living in Mussolini's rising dictatorship.

This is where we find Svevo when the play opens. A dithering yet quietly heroic author waiting to find out if his latest work will bring the Black Shirts to his door.

Colyer's Svevo is flecked with characteristics he shared with his protagonists. His conversation is punctuated with frog-like croaks, a vocal nervous tic that comes on at moments of self doubt and fear for himself or for Italy.

This intriguing and absorbing double biography is superbly delivered by David Bromley. He captures Svevo's ineffectual nerviness and delivers his self-mockery with charm.

Bromley's expressive features are at the fore when dipping into cameos—there is an especially good one of fellow resident of Trieste, James Joyce, whose friendship was pivotal to Svevo's literary success.

Kate Bannister directs with an elegant pace leaving space for the words to sink in and for the sheer humour in the piece to twinkle; Karl Swinyard provides a complementary stylish and atmospheric set, and the Fascist marches in Philip Matejtschuk's sound design hint at the encroaching jackbooted menace.

This is a black diamond, classy, dark and appealing. Quite a gem in fact.

Sandra Giorgetti