A Different Language
Text by Rebati Gabrielli
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
As a co-production between Suspect Culture and il Rossetti, Teatro Stabile del Friuli-Venezia Giulia, it's difficult to determine how many of the problems I perceived with the script are due to a need for more development, and how many are due to an imperfect blending of two theatrical cultures.
Upon entering the theatre, the first noticeable thing is Luigi Mattiazzi's ingenious set design - a series of inclining platforms, almost runway-like, which expertly fill the space of Traverse 2. Between the set and the music (sound designed by Kenny MacLeod), expectations for A Different Language are raised almost immediately.
Unfortunately, these expectations are never quite realized. This is a stylish production with little substance; the idea of its being difficult to make connections in the modern world is not explored in a satisfactory way. The two main characters, Petal (Selina Boyack) and Chinzio (Sergio Romano) are neither sympathetic nor antagonistic enough to provoke empathy from the audience; both are such social misfits that, while it's easy to understand why they've found it necessary to resort to a dating agency to find their perfect match, they fail to feel like real people.
Another point that makes it difficult to engage with the piece is that although the setting changes almost constantly from England to Italy, and each participant's interactions with people from the agency, the signals that this transition is taking place is never clearly delineated - indeed, as the piece progresses it begins to feel as though the only hint we receive that the actors are changing their character is Boyack's deliberate smoothing over of her hair. Since writer Renato Gabrielli has made sure that the representatives from the agency speak in wholly different ways from Petal and Chinzio, the cause of this confusion must be laid at the feet of director Graham Eatough and performers Boyack and Romano.
A bizarre choice has been made in the inclusion of extended sections of the piece which feel almost like interpretive movement performances. The movements of the two performers don't add much to the show, and are frustrating in that they slow down what is already a ploddingly paced piece.
A Different Language feels like a work-in-progress. The ideas which are being explored are not fully articulated, and although the blending of Italian and English languages does help to delineate the geographic locations of the two characters, unless one speaks both languages it is easy to feel as if one is missing large sections of the story.
Obviously, with two Italian artists (Gabrielli and Romano, who apparently have a long history of working together) at its core, it's possible that A Different Language may speak more to audience members with a deeper understanding and knowledge of Italian drama and literature. But one wishes there could have been more of an effort to take the interesting question of how people connect in the age of EasyJet and the internet, and present it in a way that took full advantage of a topic which, judging from the packed house on Wednesday evening, many people were interested in hearing about.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody