The Hostess of the Inn
Carlo Goldoni, translated and adapted by Katherine Gregor
Lion and Unicorn Theatre
Production company Giant Olive launches its official residency at this Kentish Town venue with a new translation of Goldoni's La Locandiera. Following productions at the same venue earlier this year of Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Euripides' Antigone and Dario Fo and Franka Rame's Adult Orgasm, this suggests a company with ambitious plans and producer George Sallis says they are particularly interested in presenting work by playwrights like Molière and Goldoni and other classic dramatists whose work is not often seen today.
With this revival they certainly make a very spirited showing. Goldoni was influenced by Molière plays so this play set in a Florentine inn makes an appropriate successor to director Andrea Hooymans' earlier production. Its title role, the innkeeper Mirandolina, running a hostelry inherited from her father, is typical of the new type of character with which he replaced those of the commedia dell'arte: industrious bourgeoise, honest and real, though the roles of her aristocratic guests, whom Goldoni loves making fun of, clearly have their roots in some of the stock figures of the old improvised comedy, something which is reflected in the way that they are played in this production.
Mirandolina is clever and attractive. Elizabeth Keates makes her delightful and straightforward but (especially when set against some of her colleagues' full-blown playing) a little restrained for someone who has the charisma to make every male she meets fall in love with her. She is still charmingly vivacious and has an amazingly speedy delivery, always clear but sometimes not giving herself time to allow her brain to think before voicing the thought.
Her admirers include a hard-up Marquess, besotted with his own rank and good taste who offers her his 'protection,' rattling his sword in its scabbard whenever he does so in an admirable performance from Edward Kingham, including a drunk scene that teeters just on the right side of the line between realism and caricature. One rival is a spendthrift count, showering her with presents (which politeness forbids she refuse), whom Alex Barclay plays as a full out foppish fool; another more secret admirer is a knight who claims to have no interest in women. Maurice Byrne makes him vocally awkward and rather a pedant, perhaps a conscious reflection of his possible origin in the traditional pantaloon character, but since Mirandolina seems to admire him, and seems to set her cap at him, this fits ill with the rest of the production - even though she finally rejects him for the man whom her father planned she would marry, her employee Fabrizio who comes over most humane of them all, as sterlingly played by Paul Bryant. As a couple of actresses passing themselves off as nobility, a blowsily overblown Jill Stanford and a giggling Clare Wallis, making herself gawping and toothy, win their laughs as a broad comic duo, while Tim Pritchett's servant (I suspect several roles run together) matches Goldoni's presentation of ordinary working people as real rather than just comic zanies.
Set designer Julianne Sota and costume designer and maker Prudence von Rohrbach manage opulence on a miniscule budget and the production has an energy and pace that fills the venue - a pleasant change from some fringe shows where a director who knows the script backwards expects a 'naturalistic' mumbled mutter to be heard beyond the third row. Just occasionally its strains belief a little too far: as capable a housekeeper as Mirandolina would never allow a hot flatiron to be put face down on a wooden table, let alone on a garment. I knew few people today use a flat iron but if you've researched enough to know that the handle should be wrapped in rags to avoid burning your hand surely you realise the face of the iron is going to be even hotter - and indeed it is used to burn one of the characters! But I quibble. It is not a quite perfect production but it is fun.
Until 14th December 2008
Reviewer: Howard Loxton