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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Magic Spaghetti, theatre review

Published in Northings

Magic Spaghetti
Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh

IT IS a lucky parent who has never had to endure the whims of a picky eater in the family. Some combination of needing to exert control and finding comfort in the familiar makes many children insist on sticking to a boring diet.

If you know such a child, they would find themselves very much at home in the town of Plain. Here in the fictional land of Scotaly, where they wear kilts and speak like Italian waiters, the small-minded townsfolk regard anything that is not pasta, boil-in-the-bag rice or custard with suspicion. Even something as straight-forward as sugo sauce – nothing but garlic, tomatoes and basil – is too fancy for their conservative tastes.

Like Catherine Wheels' White (also touring this autumn), Licketyspit's Magic Spaghetti examines how fear of the unknown leads to repression, reactionary politics and a failure to live life to the full. It is a call not just for better eating habits, but for open-mindedness in general.

In Virginia Radcliffe's play for the over-threes – first seen in 2005 – Mary Gapinski's Florentina returns to the town of her birth after travelling the world only to discover that the place she remembers as a foodie paradise has banished even the most basic vegetables. Seeing how much time Florentina spends in the kitchen, the inward-looking locals christen her Strega Nona – or granny witch – and keep their distance, at least until they can no longer suppress their secret desires.

All this is done with bags of energy and lively musical interludes by a hard-working cast with much entertaining cross-dressing. They wouldn't have to work quite so hard, however, if the focus of the story shifted a little.

In the central role, Florentina is the Good Fairy figure who is proved right by events. This makes her less interesting than Johnny Austin's Big Tony, the boy who will eat only spaghetti. His is the story we want to hear.

Like Aladdin, he is the one who ventures into the scariest place (Florentina's magic spaghetti pot), confronts his fears and, through his own resourcefulness, transforms the world around him. By welcoming new tastes and flavours, he reaches maturity, puts his "Noodle" persona behind him and gets the girl – the pretty Sugarina. The two are then ready to venture into the world as adults.

All this is there in the story, but it is seen through the perspective of Florentina. She is a likeable figure, but she is the solution to a problem and not the problem itself. By focusing on her instead of Big Tony, the script often ends up with more explanation than action, the audience's attention tends to drift and the conclusion has less emotional resolution than it deserves.

That the production proves as vibrant and funny as it does is testimony to the power of the theme and the spirited performances of the five-strong cast, but there's room for it to be better still.

Magic Spaghetti is at the MacPhail Centre, Ullapool, 16 September; Rosehall Community Hall, Lairg, 17 September; Fortrose Community Theatre, Fortrose, 18 September; Strathpeffer Pavilion, Strathpeffer, 19-20 September; Mull Theatre, Isle of Mull, 22 September; Mallaig & Morar Community Centre, Mallaig, 23 September; Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Isle of Skye, 24 September. See Licketyspit website for full tour information.

© Mark Fisher 2010

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