I hadn't realised the whole thing would be in Italian. Slightly slow of me perhaps, seeing as the title Mistero! is in Italian, and the performance was advertised as the 'Oxford Italian Play 2017', rather than the 'Oxford English' or the 'Oxford Sign Language'.
I am hugely embarrassed by my years of lacking to grasp the Italian language, despite having learnt it through various means since I was an undergrad. But grasp this play I (almost) did. Ever more easily, perhaps, because it was just so surreal, my two thirds understanding sat well with the bizarre world these characters were themselves trying to understand.
Mistero! is a performance of ten stories from Dino Buzzati's collection of thirty one, entitled The Mystery Boutique. Not just a writer of fiction, Buzzati was also a journalist. Though his stories seem strongly to borrow from the trope of Magical Realism (and he was openly influenced by Kafka), they appear coloured with journalistic realism. The conversations the characters have are so realistic, so humanly petty (and gosh aren't we just?), regardless of what they are speaking about (for example- a man whose wife grows angel wings seems embarrassed of what people will think, more than anything else.) An interplay between fact and fiction seems all the more relevant in this world of fake news that we appear to now live in. I wonder if Buzzati would have revelled in this, having said at one point; 'it seems to me, fantasy should be as close as possible to journalism'.
I like the Burton Taylor as a venue. To me its intimacy seems all the more extreme, given that, as a student theatre, I never know how excruciating my next hour will be. I am happy to say that I have not yet sat through any awfulness in this venue, though the risk is always there. I like it here that I am able to be close to the actors, the small windowless room and the silent audience, all focussing on the same thing. This close space was particularly appropriate for Buzzati's stories- all set in this bizarre and nonsensical world, where things are set the way they are with the characters baffled prisoners.
To go back to the language element, here is something useful I learnt- Italian plays, for those who like me, accidently end up in them, have the positive of being acted in the most gestural language it is almost impossible to not know what they are speaking about. In any other language this would be seen as over acting but here it was almost as if I were looking out of a window onto an Italian street. Italians, I always think, live their lives so much more fully than anyone else, the dramas acted out so publically, nothing kept inside. Although perhaps my opinions are coloured through having grown up watching too many Fellini films. Life and art for me in Italy are almost interchangeable. Can you tell, my plus one and I pondered over pizza (of course) afterwards, if a play is badly acted, when you do not have full grasp of the language? And can you act well in a second language (half the cast were non-Italian)? Yes. Sometimes perhaps performed slightly enthusiastically, but by and large a really great show of talent. I will look out for all members of cast in any future performance, all, I feel, destined for bright futures.
Fine (that's Italian for 'the end', by the way).