As the end of the Royal Exchange Summer season approaches the theatre company must have thought “farce set in Italy - should please the punters” without actually considering the quality of the production. On paper, granted, this tale of a beautiful independent and feisty Inn keeper and her troupe of adoring men does appeal as an escape route from football, tennis and reality TV. But somewhere along the way this supposedly hot, passionate story has been served up cold and stodgy.
Originally written in 1753 by Carlo Goldoni, Mirandolina has been transposed to the 1920's. This is not a problem as the main character is a timeless creature fully aware of her sexuality and the affect she has on men. But thrown into the mix also are some ill conceived musical numbers. The poor cast does not truly know how to convey these songs although they valiantly try. Raquel Cassidy sings like Victoria Wood - which would be fine in Acorn Antiques but here it does not highlight her character's alluring nature; instead it exposes the play's many flaws.
Matthew Kelly plays the next spellbound suitor very well, complete with dumbfounded look and awkward movements. You only wish this gifted actor was rewarded with better material. For all the talk of Italy, you are treated to a variety of accents including Welsh, Irish and stiff upper lip British. In fact the only true sense of the Rivera is available in the form of bottled lager at the bar.
Mike Britton's evocative set design does provide the audience with a rustic look at how these lustful characters live their lives and one superbly realised dance scene with white sheets as props illuminates the piece. But it is a bad case of too little too late. Jonathan Munby's muddled direction consists of many rushed scenes involving lots of screaming shouting but very little in terms of narrative drive. This simply irritates and distracts you from seeing anything worthy of applause.
Neither a farce nor a musical, this dish is overcooked rather than half baked and not really of the high calibre one comes to expect from the Royal Exchange. With the 30th Anniversary season beginning in September, you can only hope that a return to form is imminent.
- Glenn Meads