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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Lyttelton Theatre  Summer-Autumn  2013

Showing great imagination, Sir Richard Eyre has envisioned Luigi Pirandello's Liolā as Synge with sunshine, complete with Brechtian songs, several Commedia characters and a Restoration plot.

Though it lasts little more than 90 minutes, his production is very satisfying, saying much about human nature that is as true today as it was close to 100 years ago when Pirandello wrote his comedy of Sicilian life.

The starting point is the stuff that plays are made on. Simone Palumbo, played with suitable misanthropy by James Hayes, is a 65-year-old curmudgeon whose sole desire is to beget a son.

Unhappily, his wife Mita (Lisa Dwyer Hogg), who must be four decades the old man's junior has so far failed to do the necessary in five years of miserable marriage, keeping the whole village murmuring at every opportunity.

Just up the road lives Rory Keenan as songster Liolā, a real Jack-the-lad with three sons by different forgotten mothers, all looked after by his own. Indeed, if his reputation as the ultimate Lothario is anything to go by, the odds are that there are several more elsewhere but not quite so visible.

After the almond harvest, another neighbour, Jessica Regan playing Tuzza, begins to feel a swelling belly and, with the support of her conniving mother, Aisling O'Sullivan's rather mannered Croce, agrees with the old man to donate her putative offspring, in return for his fortune for future generations.

Inevitably, this causes dissension in the Palumbo household and the prospect of years of misery for pretty, quite possibly faultless Mita.

The solution to this sad state of affairs will seem inevitable to many from quite early in the proceedings but nevertheless brings much laughter and a warm feeling in the heart when it is eventually played out.

This new version by Tanya Ronder is held together by Eileen Walsh as mischievous Cārmina, the town gossip but also our surrogate narrator, who sings a mean song herself (composed in Kurt Weill style by Orlando Gough), when the need arises. Help comes too from a comic trio of worldly wise teenagers, Nela, Ciuzza and Luzza (respectively Carla Langley, Niamh McGowan and Roxanna Nic Liam).

The large cast play in an open town square complete with gnarled climbing tree and enough light to replicate a Sicilian summer.

This latest production in the Travelex Ģ12 programme is great fun and well worth such a small outlay to see an excellent Irish cast transported to a Mediterranean island for a story that could almost have been their own.

Philip Fisher

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Review -  Liola - National Theatre 2013 

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