The Doorbells of Florence
Vivid Dreams Productions
Rosemary Branch Theatre
When in Florence journalist Andrew Losowsky, for no reason he can now remember, began to take photographs of doorbells. Looking at them later, a series of stories came into his mind. These became a book which he self-published and which won the 2006 Lulu Blooker Prize before being taken up by an American trade publisher this year and it is now about to get British distribution. Now he has turned his stories, about the people who live behind these Florentine doors, into a play.
Well, to call it a play might be contentious. Let's call it 'a piece of theatre.' Losowsky has not dramatised his stories. They are told straight out to the audience by two performers, Samuel Collings and Jennifer Jackson, who do an admirable job of it, and the theatricality comes from the way there are presented in Tom Wright's production.
First there is a very atmospheric set by Liam Shea - whitewash running down the theatre's black walls and splashed across the floor, small cast-iron pub tables, a huge mirror across the back, also white-washed coated, and two pale cupboards either side, an empty birdcage visible behind one of them. There is a slide projector set up centre front that rather mars the stylishness of this set but closer inspection shows the stool it is set on has one strange short leg, a pile of books beneath to prop it up and that projector becomes an essential part of the action, the means of showing us the doorbells that link to every story.
The performers are also carefully dressed to give a whole range of associations with childhood, storybooks and story-tellers and their actions have the inquisitiveness of children linked with the automaton qualities of dolls brought to life.
Lighting (Pete Bragg) and sound (Dinah Mullen) are carefully integrated as part of the dramatic structure - I won't spoil things by giving you any details but I particularly liked the way while one performer is narrating the other is sitting quietly with only their eyes softly lit.
The handful of stories, told over not much more than an hour, range from longer tales, like that of the eight-year old who wants to be a detective and sits around watching people through a hole cut in his father's newspaper but grows up red-haired and very tall, too conspicuous to succeed in that line of business, to one liners, the boy who liked his old school better. On one occasion, when the doorbell is labelled 'Illuminati,' they think better of telling us any story at all! The people who live behind each doorbell are all citizens of Florence: they could have passed each other in the street, they might even have been acquainted. We hear of no interaction, but a 2 Euro coin does crop up in several stories. Is it significant? We find out in the final tale.
The production's surreal packaging echoes an element in the stories but also gives a sophistication and a theatrical frisson that might otherwise be lacking. It would be interesting to see if they would stand up to staging without this artifice. It would certainly allow time for more stories in the same brief time span. Its tricksy business could be seen as padding, though you could also claim that its button-pressing substitutes for ringing the doorbells. But time is hardly a problem. While in book form, taken individually, Losowsky's imagination makes these refreshing morsels which, like traditional folk tales, may seem to resonate with a deeper meaning, they are too insubstantial to be compelling theatre on their own and it is the imagination of the performers and the production team which make this brief entertainment enjoyable.
Until 31st May 2009
Reviewer: Howard Loxton