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Ennio Marchetto - The Living Cartoon

Uncategorizable! Quick-change artist with origami.
Oxford Playhouse, 17th July 2007 & Tue October 21st 2008

July 18, 2007
After a while in your seat at this hilariously camp lip-synching, impersonation and paper magic show, if you were squinting your eyes and suspending your disbelief, you'd be forgiven for thinking you WERE watching a huge cartoon prancing about the stage.

Venetian-born Ennio (who once made papier maché masks and costumes for the Carnevale) dances and pseudo-sings his way through over an hour of music, switching deftly between 50 of his 140+ total characters tonight as the tracks on his continuous backing CD roll on. Dressed in a black lycra bodysuit beneath the myriad plasticised paper outfits designed and made by his long-time collaborator Sosthen Hennekam (each one durable enough to last 100 uses), it is the ultra-expressiveness of Ennio's garishly made-up face and body that truly bring life and magic to proceedings. Prepare to laugh like a gleeful child (along with your gleeful child, if you brought her/him) as you are presented with social comment, celebrity mudslinging and fun-poking – all through the medium of paper and song. Marvel as a rabbi transforms into Britney Spears; as Madonna undresses down to the VERY bare minimum; as Ravi Shankar’s daughters metamorphose into the Supremes. Not just particular celebrities, but national traditional musical genres are encapsulated within less than a minute of paper manipulation and soundtrack. (All this, and Ennio tailors the characters in each show to his audience depending on the country he's in.) How on earth Ennio remembers which bits go where – and when - whilst simultaneously remembering the lyrics to so much music, spliced and scratched with barely a pause for a breath, is also part of the miracle.

Much more description would to spoil the show - but suffice it to say that multi-award-winning Ennio, whose career kicked off in earnest after he became a cult hit at Edinburgh festival, has performed for the Queen, Elton John and Morrissey, and that he is infrequently in the UK, so if you get the chance to see him anywhere, it's worth doing so. A modest man, happy to chat to his audience in person after shows, Ennio is not a trained dancer or actor, and began making his paper fantasy into reality after daydreaming of a flying paper Marilyn Monroe whilst working in his dad’s coffee machine repair shop. From this little acorn, a mighty and hilarious paper and velcro, Commedia del’Arte-laden tree has grown.
What does buying a ticket to an Ennio Marchetto show get you? It gets you an hour of a middle aged man prancing about an empty stage and lip-synching to a mix CD. What does a reviewer’s ticket get you? A soap box on which you can explain how and why this isn’t such a terrifying proposition after all.

Marchetto’s routine revolves around a dressing up kit of garish cut-outs, worn as costumes - not entirely unlike a back cover “Cut Out and Keep” from Bunty. Each of them has at least two stages, transformed with a bit of basic-level origami and this enables Marchetto to ripple from one persona to another. The Queen can become Freddie Mercury, or Kylie Minogue can become The Singing Nun. Each time a complete reset of costume is needed, which is every 90 seconds or so, the lights go down and Marchetto nips behind a screen. During his Paul Daniels and Pier-End heydays of the 80s, Marchetto seemed to be operate rather more rapidly, not to say smoothly, but perhaps decades of tossing about pieces of paper can be more exhausting than you’d first imagine.

Many of the best segments included more than two stages - a bottle of Wine became Amy Winehouse who became Marge Simpson in a particularly straightforward, and therefore plausibly explainable example.

You may have guessed that there was very little weight to any of the proceedings. At one point Marchetto was dressed as Chairman Mao but lip-synched to Carl Douglas’ Kung Fu Fighting, particularly the lyrics “In fact it was a little bit frightening, but they fought with expert timing.” Romantically, I might suppose some satire in the moment, but realistically, that notion is a stretch. Madonna stripped - and stripped and stripped - and while Robbie Williams was clearly making a sincere point when he did the same thing in his Rock DJ promo, Paper Madonna tearing her own body to pieces read as nothing more than caricature. Incidentally, one of Madonna’s nipples was caught up in a costume malfunction to trump Janet Jackson’s Superbowl “shame” by coming unstuck at an inopportune time - but Marchetto isn’t the first diva to be let down by tit tape, of course.

The biggest laughs came from the most creative juxtapositions of celebrities or the most surprising coincidences of music and costume change. These, of course, depended on realisations the audience made in an instant. As a result, much of the hour is spent between the peaks and simply watching... well, a middle aged man prancing about, but the pennies do drop frequently enough that, in hind-sight at least, it seems to have been a pretty full show.
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