Over at the National Theatre, a production of Luigi Pirandello’s Liolà is running, adapted by Tanya Ronder and directed by Richard Eyre, with an all-Irish cast.
At first the juxtaposition of Irish accents with an obviously Italian setting jars a little, but as becomes clear, this is the story of any displaced community fending for itself, and the decision by the director to cast it in the way he did just about works. Liolà himself is a playboy on the surface – he has three young sons by three different women, has no thoughts of marriage, and has no qualms about picking the best fruit from the vine. He’s beautifully played with surety by Rory Keenan – you shouldn’t like this character because of his fecklessness and devil-may-care attitude, but as the play enfolds we see a loving father and a good friend, who has the ultimate solution to old Uncle Simone’s problem of not being able to father a child with his beautiful young wife, Mita.
Liolà has been described as a pastoral comedy, and in its laconic view of life and use of music to illuminate the story, it does have wit and intelligence. But there’s more going on under the surface than immediately appears. Liolà’s mother, Ninfa (Charlotte Bradley) knows her son better than anyone and will defend him to the hilt, but knows inside that his unorthodox ways have brought shame on their family. Simone (James Hayes) is sixty-five and has had a previous barren wife, yet he violently abuses and blames Mita (Lisa Dwyer Hogg) for his lack of fortune.
On the periphery of this cauldron of family emotions are those who watch (Rosaleen Linahan’s Gesa, aunt to Mita; and cynical old-maid Càrmina, played by Eileen Walsh) and those who scheme (the Azzara mother and daughter, Croce (Aisling O’Sullivan) and Tuzza (Jessica Regan)). Whether peeling potatoes, crushing nuts, or singing to while away the hours, these women rule the roost and dominate the play.
Anthony Ward has designed an impressive set which in a mass of concrete, wood, and one large tree, gives a flavour of 19th century Sicily, as does Rich Walsh’s sound design of chirping cicadas and off-stage chatter. Liolà is a play which takes a little time to get going, but when it does, it is a tale worth watching.