The Return – a personal plead

I don’t often use my blog to promote my work but this is important.
Two years ago with my company Legalaliens ( we started working at the English translation of the Italian play Il Ritorno (The Return) by Sergio Pierattini, winner of the 2008 Italian critics award in order to present this great piece of writing by one of the most significant voices in Italian contemporary theatre to English-speaking audiences.

Italian culture is very seldom translated and exported. Yes, of course, Italian art is famous, but from which century? Let’s face it, we are all still relying on the laurels of the Renaissance, ok, a couple of film directors became famous in the 1950s with Neo-Realism, and occasionally a novel manages to get to grab the attention of the world, but the truth is, most people I know outside Italy – and I mean educated people, who love theatre, arts and cinema – would seriously struggle if asked to name three contemporary Italian writers, let alone playwrights.

With LegalAliens we’re trying to fill this humongous gap, by translating Italian theatre and using bilingual Italian actors to perform our shows, in order to keep the flavour of the original, whilst offering a show in English.

Our multi lingual, inter cultural, metropolitan cities are a receptacle for people from everywhere in the world no matter in which sector you operate. And this opens new horizons to theatre: because we can stage a play from another country, in translation, but using actors who are native of the country that produced that text.

The Return is a play set in a very specific area, industrial Bergamo, and re-creating its very precise language in English has been a long and challenging process, at times exciting, at times disheartening, but always interesting. I have always been very confident about London’s openness towards everything that’s different, and London did react well to our attempt: last summer we were selected to present the show at the Camden Festival, and we sold out. People loved it, and not only those with a special link or interest towards Italy.

Encouraged by such response, we pitched the show to theatres in the US and received a positive response from theatre Exile in Philadelphia. If all goes to plan, and we find enough funds, we will perform there in autumn.

The St James Theatre in London also offered us its beautiful venue for one night.

So far so good…

But unfortunately shows require money to be produced, quite a bit of money… The British government has made huge buts recently and the arts had seen their budget slashed. Getting public help has become increasingly difficult.

That’s why in order to finance our project we’ve launched a campaign.


If you think what we do has a value and can spare even just a few pounds, we’d be incredibly grateful. We only have two weeks left.

I’ll close this post with a video of our cast talking about the project. Enjoy!


THE RETURN (Il Ritorno)

THE RETURN (Il Ritorno).
Another year another show…

The Return, the first ever English translation of the award winning play by Sergio Pierattini is opening at the Camden Fringe Festival on the 24th of August.
More details to come!

THE RETURN – trailer

A family in industrial northern Italy.

A daughter returning home after a long absence.

A dark secret…


Humour, drama and social commentary mix in this tragi-comic portrait of contemporary Italy, where traditional values are threatened and old ideals have collapsed.

THE PLAY:  THE RETURN premiered in Milan in 2008, winning the Critics’ Award for new writing. It’s set in Bergamo, in the kitchen of a family, whose daughter has returned from a long absence. She’s on parole, having spent seven years in prison for the death of her fiancée, a Moroccan immigrant employed by her father. The seriousness of the material, and its commentary on intercultural relations, is juxtaposed with darkly humorous dialogue, and a creeping sense of claustrophobia to capture the disintegration of the traditional family.

THE SHOW: directed by Becka McFadden and performed by an Italian cast, in English, this world premiere show is the result of a two-year collaboration between Pierattini and translator Matt Morrison

THE COMPANY: Dedicated to the creation of innovative, theatre that explores issues affecting contemporary societies, LegalAliens strives to create a body of work that speaks to their own experience as “aliens” in the UK. Their central ambition is to contribute to more frequent performances of European plays that address universal themes transcending national borders. LegalAliens’ work has attracted the attention of such acclaimed theatre artists as Dario Fo, who comments:  “Their starting point, the themes and the way they embrace the stage are definitely to be encouraged.”

Follow us on Twitter! @LegalAliensITC

 Facebook: LegalAliens International Theatre Company

Sing along… or not

Dont you hate jingles?
I do.
Yes, there are some pretty appalling advertising campaigns  out there but nothing is as bad as a bad jingle.
Because jingles are something you can’t escape.
Jingles have the sordid habit of sticking to your head no matter how much you detest them.
Jingles sneak in and stay, and the more idiotic they are, the more persistent.
And if advertising executives are under the illusion this persistency creates a loyalty or interest towards the brand they are deluded
I can develop a real hatred for any company featured in annoying jingles. Because jingles are like squatters: they take possession of your brain without permission, moving in while you are not there.

There are in particular three types of jingles I find intolerable, but please send me your own:

Silly tunes that are just intolerable.

This Lloyd’s “ah-ah-ah-ah ah-ah, ah-ah-ah-ah ah-ah, ah-ah-ah-ah ah-ah, ah-ah-ah-aaaaaaaaaah-ah!” for instance is kind of nice the first time you hear it, but after a while you just want to strangle the singer, especially when she goes “aaaa!”

Not to mention “go compaaaare!” with the mad opera singer in moustache appearing in the most absurd outfits from ancient Egyptian to astronaut…

–  jingles featuring a clearly frustrated singer who decides to use them to show off every single note their vocal chords can produce.
The result is a totally over the top performance, that hits your ears like a typhoon.

A typical example is It goes like this: we hear a fun little music, a male voice saying “confused about choosing your car insurance?” which is an inoffensive enough question, one second later we’re attacked by a shouting creature yelling: “Coooooooonfused dot com!!!! Go save your money at cooooooooooooonfused dot com!!!!” on the notes of village people’s YMCA…

This is the TV version, which is slightly less of offensive, thanks to funny cartoon…

Honestly, the woman screams so loudly it sounds demented.

–  jingles with horrible lyrics, especially if telling a story.

The worst I’ve heard is a radio spot for an insurance company (whats wrong with insurance people? Stop singing dudes!!! Please!) whose name I can’t even remember. This is how bad their radio jingle is: as soon as I hear it I switch channel as fast as i can, so I never get to the name of the company.
It begins with a woman with a light squeaky voice singing: “it wasn’t my fault it was somebody else…”
Fault for what? Making you sing? Were you forced at gun point? Maybe, it would explain the flimsy voice… But no, the fault in question is in fact the responsibility for an accident at work.
Yes, it turns out the singing woman was in an office (I bet, she definitely needs a daytime job, she’ll never win the X Factor) when a box fell on her head, knocking her to the floor…
“and I couldn’t get up any more any more!!!!!” she sings….
Erm… honey… it wasnt an accident. somebody THREW that box at you!!! It was the only way to shut you up!

Yes, I know. My agent could call me tomorrow asking me to sing a jingle in which I claim to have been knocked out by a box of toilet paper fallen from the sky and if it’s well paid I’ll say yes. And it would be me being publicly ridiculed. Well, bring it on. In fact, you can already start. I’ll give you a clue:



Jennifer’s life? No thanks. OR Ode to Kristine Scott Thomas

Last month, while I was in Los Angeles I got into a heated discussion with one of the gurus of acting coaching whose name I won’t mention since suing people is California’s national sport.

I was attending a fabulous class on comedy, thoroughly enjoying myself until the guru in question mentioned Jennifer Aniston as one of the greatest example of comic acting, claiming that if you are a great comedy actor you are a great actor full stop, whilst if you’re good at drama often that’s all you can do.
I lifted a timid hand:
“actually”, I said, “after Friends, in which she was admittedly very funny, Aniston has starred in a series of b movies in which she played Rachel again and again, and hasn’t proved to be anything other than a one track pony, let alone being able to do drama.”

The guru gave me a look full of spite:
“Oh, I really wouldn’t wish it on you to have Jennifer Aniston’s career,” she said with a fake mellifluous smile. “She is a star. She’s a millionaire. Friends is the most repeated series in the world. But I really wouldn’t wish all that on you… Because you would never want to have HER career, wouldn’t you?”

She laughed at the absurdity of the idea, followed by everyone else in the class.

I didn’t bother reply, but actually, well, no, I would never swap with Jennifer Aniston.
I swear.
I have no desire to be Jennifer Aniston. In my life I fantasised about being many people, from Loretta Goggi to katherine Hepburn, but Jennifer Aniston has never touched my imagination.

Yes, she was married to Brad Pitt, yes she is a millionaire, yes she has perfect straight hair but
A) I’ve never fancied Brad Pitt, he’s a bad copy of Robert Redford and I prefer the original, wrinkles and all.
B) I’m lucky enough never to have considered being a millionaire the greatest goal of my life.
C) I have curly hair.

So no, thank you, i don’t want anyone to wish Jennifer Aniston’s career on me because I have no desire to be a millionaire divorcee who’s appeared in the lamest rom coms of the past ten years.

I’m not in this business for the money. I’m in it for the love of acting, as corny as that sounds. I want to be creative, I want to challenge myself, play different parts, learn every day.
What do you learn when you keep playing Rachel? There are only that many funny faces anyone can come up with.

So WHOSE career would I love?

Well, avoiding the obvious names, ie those rare genius of acting like Meryl Streep and Kate Blanchet that I will never equal, I would go for all round performers like Julianne Moore, Emma Thompson, or, recently, Kristine Scott Thomas.

In fact, I’d go straight away for Scott Thomas. If you fancy wishing me her career, feel free.

She’s not only classy, sexy, educated and very intelligent, the kind of woman I would go out with if I was a man…
She is totally bilingual English-French and lives between two countries, basically like me but much more comfortably.
She alternates cinema and theatre, proving to be good at both. On stage she commands the scene. On screen she is compelling. She can be funny and tragic.
Basically, she isn’t a celebrity, she is an actress.
Because this is the fundamental misunderstanding. We confuse fame and talent.

Scott Thomas gives actresses back their good reputation by proving that we’re not all some superficial, egocentric bimbos whose main concern is anti wrinkle creams.
I hate it that people wonder why I want to be an actress despite having a brain, as if the two things were incompatible, as if acting required no intelligence, just a fit body and perfect teeth.

Scott Thomas, like Emma Thompson, like Jody Foster, show that intelligence does matter. Sure, it doesn’t make you box office winner, but it gives you a career based on talent and on the respect of your peers.

This kind of actress never appears on gossip magazines, has a private life thar is private and is famous just enough to be able to pick and chose her jobs.
For the rest she can walk to the supermarket without having photographers waiting outside her house.

THAT for me is enviable. That, I really wish. That, is a career in acting!!!

Jennifer, you’re sweet. I loved watching Rachel and Ross. And I was on your side when Angelina stole Brad from you. But at my imaginary perfect dinner table you’d be never invited. You’re boring. Your hair is boring. And besides, you’d never eat anything, no egg white omelettes, gluten free pasta and soya milk in my house!!!


Actors… I know most of you out there might have never met one “in flesh”. In fact most people go through life convinced actors are only the people they see on TV, at the cinema and occasionally on stage. Actors populate the parallel world of fiction and you don’t expect to find them on the underground, at the supermarket, or on the bus…

But you’re wrong…

Especially in MY world, it feels like Earth is populated mainly and sometimes solely by actors. Ok, perhaps not Earth, but for sure London feels that way.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t go out when people with normal jobs leave home, I tend to travel on public transport at times when office people, teachers, nurses and such industrious human beings are at work. Result, I bump into people who are outside those categories. And actors are the first in the list.

Take today, for instance.

First thing in the morning I go to Pilates.

Joan, my teacher, is Sophie Okonedo’s mother and she starts talking about her daughter latest movie shot in L.A. Lucky her. One of the guys in the class makes a comment about who her agent is, from which I imply he’s also an actor. Two women join in the conversation, actresses too. Ok ok, it’s a Pilates class at 9.30, I’m not going to get bank managers in the class at this time, but there potentially lots of people in leafy Crouch End who don’t work full time: stay home mothers, part time teachers, students, free lance people of different sorts… But no, the class is populated mainly by actors.

Supermarket. I buy a few things and place myself in the queue to pay. The phone of the guy in front of me goes off: “yes, at what time is the casting?” he asks. “what do I need to wear?”


In the afternoon I have a job in town so I get the bus to Archway, I have a script in my hands that I’m trying to practice for an audition next week. A middle aged man sits next to me and after 20 seconds says:

“What’s your audition for?” I look at him suspiciously – Londoners don’t talk to strangers, they could notoriously be thieves, robbers, psychopath or Al Quaida terrorist.

“Short film,” I reply, my eyes fixed on the piece of paper.

“I recognized the layout,” the guy goes on. “Only scripts are formatted that way. I’m a playwright and actor myself.”

Surprise surprise.

I reach Archway and leave the bus.

Northern Line. I sit opposite a young girl with black hair and a big red bag. After 3 seconds she extracts from the bag something that untrained eyes could just consider a normal pocket diary, but I immediately recognize it as an Equity pocket diary.

Every actor in the UK receives a pocket diary from Equity at the start of the year and we all carry it with us like the bible.

I go for my recording, finish, then decide to walk into a cafe to get a quick espresso. Two men sit at a table. They’re discussing a play, a script in their hands. Ok, it’s the West End, theatreland, so it’s not too strange.

I go for the second job of the day, which takes place, ha ha, at the Actors Centre, where I teach.

The Actors Centre is a place where 100% of the population is actors. Bizarre! You sit in the green room and next to you two people will be discussing in perfect RP Mister Rochester’s horses, whilst at the table on the corner another two will be shouting at each other pretending to have a street fight, not to mention the man at the back of the room practicing a tap routine.  All perfectly normal for us, but for non actors the place would look like that mental hospital in “One flew over the cokoo nest”.

I take the tube back home. At Warren street a woman gets on and sits near me. She’s scribbling something on a piece of paper. I’m bored, I don’t have a book, so I end up peeking. Her note says: print CV and headshots for Spotlight.

I’m beginning to think I live in a parallel world where actors have taken over the Universe…

Imagine that… Nobody who would have a clue what the stock exchange is or what Excel is for. Humanity would be extinct in no time…

But maybe not… After all, actors are the most resourceful people I know. I know actors who in order to survive have learned to do the most diverse jobs, from builder/decorator, to nurse, to plumber, to driver, to cooks, to IT expert. Nothing puts them off. After all, you can always use it for a role….

Give an actor an address, no matter how remote, and they will reach it without a GPS, just with an old fashioned map, finding also the cheapest way to get there to.

Actors can live on a budget like no others, share accomodations, travel, clothes… Actors can usually cook because it’s cheaper than eating out, they can fix clothes, saw, build…

In fact perhaps everyone should be compulsory forced to be an actor for a while. So people would stop thinking we’re these useless bunch of good for nothing who go to the gym in the morning and realize we’re more hard working than most office workers who spend a third of their day on Facebook…

But maybe it’s a bad idea… Let the world think that we’re all celebrities doing nothing all day and jetting across the world on a private plane to shoot the next Hollywood blockbuster… Why ruining illusions?

We’ll go on scribbling down appointments on the Tube, practising script on the 134 to Archway and doing Pilates in the gym, in incognito and anonymous, like sleeping cells ready to jump into action…






An actress’ life is back! Episode 2: PRAGUE FRINGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m in Prague for the International Fringe Theatre Festival. Yeah!

But hold on… Fringe theatre… What is it?
For the non-adepts, non English speakers, non-theatregoers, “fringe” means obviously something that isn’t central, slightly peripherical, and this case it refers to those small theatres most people usually overlook and pass by without even acknowledging their existance. Why? They aren’t located in the main theatre area of a city, used to be something else – pub halls, basements, warehouses, storage rooms – and it shows, boast incredibly uncomfortable seats, no real stage, no curtains, and pay actors an absolute pittance.
Still, fringe theatres are where “new” theatre really happens, where new companies get the chances to show their abilities, playwrights try out new material, where innovative trends are born, where theatre can really happen in an artistic way far from the politics and the commercial mechanisms of official playhouses,

Most cities worth this name have a buzzing, exciting fringe theatre scene, and consequently a fringe theatre festival, except in Italy where even big theatres are overlooked by most people, can you imagine the small ones, unless they do a musical or a funny play with a TV starlet in it.
Okay,okay, I must stop my usual whine against Italy just in case somebody starts accusing me again of talking stereotypes (you’re boring, some of you out there, I’m trying to write a light hearted blog, not a sociology essay, have some sense of humour! Besides, I equally whine about the Brits in the same way, so I’m totally fair), even though, to ne fair, how many times have you Italian person been to a small, peripheral, “alternative” theatre in the past 3 months? How many plays have you seen last year?
Exactly, so shut up.

Ok, so, most cities worth their names have fringe theatre and, often, a fringe Festival. Prague is one of them. Prague in fact is amazing as theatre in the Czech Republic is so popular they have “Divadlos” everywhere, big, small, tiny, luxurious, run down, crazy, serious…

Theatres here an average of 80% attendency, which is absolutely incredible, and there are more young people wanting a career in theatre than in films. GREAT!
The Prague Fringe Festival is attended mainly by companies that work in English, which is a a bit of a pity as I would have liked really to see more shows in different languages.
The Czech theatre practitioners are a bit ambivalent towards this crowd of foreign thespians descending on their city, as they tend to be convinced their theatre is much better, and in some cases they might be right, even though I find this little war a bit sad, as theatre people should support each other morally, since nobody else does it financially.

I’ve been working with Beautiful Confusion Production at the show “The World’s Wife” for a few months.
It’s a visual, physical piece based on the poems of Carol Ann Duffy. Duffy imagined the wives (real or imaginary) of famous men to tell their side of thei husband’s stories and to share truths about what those famous people were really like. It’s a powerful, witty, dramatic, loving, desperate, ironic, truly feminist book that has the great ability of never turning into a rant against men.

It’s just women in the show, myself, Lee and Becka (two very good Americans living in London), Polly (AKA Eileen Pollock, who was very famous in the UK back in the ’80s because of her role in the sit com Bread), and Ellie, an Irish musician who lives in Prague and that we only managed to rehearse with on the last few days.

We love our show, we think it’s great and everyone who came to our London previews thought it was great too. We use tulle, we have curtains made of tulle, tulle to cover us as shy brides, tulle to wrap us and hide us and tie us like marionettes…

In London we had to divide the set between us before leaving – because this is what you do in the fringe, you don’t have vans carrying your set and props, you carry it yourself – so half of our luggage was basically tulle, cans, bouquets, and other weird stuff that would have been hardly to explain at custom.
As the experience was su full of funny details I’ve decided to write it in chapters, or, since it’s about theatre, in acts. So I can stop from time to time and rest. And so can you.
ACT 1 – Day 1. The flat near Tesco’s
We arrive at Prague airport late at night and get a cab to our accomodation. Becka and her husband Paul (pictured)
used to live in Prague so they found us some friends happy to leave us their flat for the whole 8 days.
The flat is lovely but it’s not exactly central. In fact, it’s right in the middle of nowhere, at the end of tram 22 route
off a main street dotted with ugly communist buildings that strangely remind me of the industrial Milanese suburbs of my childhood.
Where the communist architecture ends a huge Tesco mall appears, shiny and glassy like a cathedral in a desert, a real testimony of western capitalism taking over Eastern Europe (three days ago the right wing party has won the elections here). Our building looks like an office block and is situated just behind PRAZSKA ENERGETIKA, whose premises boats a neat little garden and a weird plastic sculpture with fairylights all around.
As the taxi stops in front of what we assume is our building, I notice a woman standing at the corner, smoking a cigarette. Is she a prostitute? I immediately wonder, once again thinking about the Milanese suburbs and the Brasilian transexuals parked outside my friend Patty’s building. But, on a closer inspection, I discover the woman’s wearing a pyjama and waving at us, a huge grin on her face. It turns she’s not a sex worker but Iva, our middle age host, who’s been waiting for us. Iva can’t really speak English and just says “Welcome to Prague, this is home, Welcome to Prague”. Poor Iva has effectively been evicted by her daughter in order for us to have a flat all to ourselves. Even though in fact the flat isn’t just for ourselves because Jirka, Iva’s son, is apparently going to share with us.
We go to bed at around 1.30 am and Becka announces that we’re going to pick up Lee from the airport in the morning so we need to leave at 8am. I’m NOT an early morning person but since I’m older than Becka and Lee I don’t want to sound like I don’t have as much energy as them, I turn down Becka’s suggestion to sleep longer and wait for them in a cafe’ (especially considering I presently don’t know where I am, how to get to town and how to ask for help in Czech…). It’s 3am and I can’t fall asleep for the sake of me, maybe it’s the new bed (that I’m sharing with Becka for the first 2 nights), maybe I’m too tired to relax, maybe it’s the rain rattling against the balcony. At 4.30, just when I’ve finally entered sleep, I hear some noise. Somebody’s in the room… My body fights consciousness so I don’t get to really find out what happens but I suspect Jirka has come in order to go out on the balcony and retrieve some clothes… When the alarm goes off at 7am, I’m so sleepy I’d rather be shot than have to leave the bed. I look at myself in the bathroom mirror and I want to cry as I’m sure my wrinkles have multiplied overnight. Becka on the contrary is fresh like a rose, and  totally iperactive, as if she’d been resting in a beauty farm for 3 weeks. She’s out of the flat in no time, dragging me to the tram stop before I can say “coffee”. I still have no idea of where I am, who I am, where I’m going, why I’ve agreed to go back to the airport to get Lee… Also I can’t keep up with Becka’s walk, as she strides so quickly I’m literally running after her like an idiot. She lived in Prague before so she knows every single tram intersection, metro stop, and bus station in Prague and confidently hops from one to the other like a cricket. With her long blond hair and pretty velvet jacket she looks like a model, while I look like a mix between a junkie and a 156 years old zoombie.

I desperately need a coffee and something to eat. I don’t function without breakfast in the morning, I don’t do going out with an empty stomach. But we’re running late so there’s no coffee stop for us. When, at the bus station, we make the mistake to try and buy a pastry from a stall, we almost miss the bus to the airport and Becka gets stuck between its closing doors. Not nice. We finally arrive at the airport and find Lee, who’s been up since 3.30am in order to take her 6am flight. Now WonderBecka has  2 zombies with her, one dwarfish one (me) and one gigantic one (Lee). Back at the flat she announces we only have an hour and a half to rest before going to town to collect posters, meet our musician Ellie for the first time and start our tech at the theatre. Lee and I collapse on our bed for a nap. Becka, who I suspect is taking cryptonitis behind our backs, decides to walk to Tesco’s (15 minutes) to buy some groceries and look for props for the show. She comes back still full of energy with a bag full of salame, cheese and bread (which will represent our dinner for the rest of the week but at present we don’t know that and enjoy it). We pack our bags and off we go to the theatre.


Our theatre is called A Rubin Studio, and is a sort of black grotto, a very Czech looking taverna, quite perfect for our “hellish” cabaret. It’s located right in the centre, in an allyway just off Malostranska square, between an Italian cafe and a Sushi bar doubling up as coffee place during the day (pictured above).
Having being told our tech is at 5pm, we happily sit at the sushi cafe and drink cappuccino with Ellie, going through the musical part of the show. Ellie orders half a pint of tea, followed by two more half a pints of tea. I’ve never seen anyone drinking so much tea in my life, and I live in England… We rehearse the songs in the allyway just outside the theatre. It feels exquisitely bohemian and I love it…
We go into the theatre at around 4pm, convinced to be early, only to fin out that the Festival’s organizers have decided to change our tech times without informing us. We’re told in fact that we’re missed our slot, which was apparently at 1pm. But since our appointed technician is quite a cool guy who doesn’t mind staying over, we’re granted an hour and a half to try out our technicalities. Aaaaargh!!!!
We drop our bags in the changing rooms and start rushing around.
Tech. What is it? A tech, or technical rehearsal is when, before the opening of a show, you finally enter the theatre where you’re going to perform and set lights, check audio, props, get ins and outs, basically you do anything but acting, going through your show from beginning to end just checking its technicalities with the tech guy.
Now, in normal circumstances, ie not in a festival, you tech your show for a whole day, sometimes even for two days, you point lights, you build the set, you leave all your props in place etc. But at festivals, one theatre has 4 or 5 shows every day and only half an hour between each show. So you need to be able, in 15 minutes, to put up your set from scratch, set lights, set props, arrange audio and be ready to go. At the end of the show you need to do the same in 15 minutes and clear the space for the next company. It’s not always easy.

Our tech guy, Christoph, is a 22 year old chubby Czech who thinks all western theatre is rubbish and amateurish compared to Czech theatre, that westeners voting left wing parties are mad people romanticizing socialism and that our show should be just fast funny numbers and songs – what’s all those moving around? Christoph, like most Czech apparently, is a happy alcoholic who has free use of the theatre bar and every night gulps down at least 10 pints of bear and half a bottle of a clear spirit with a name I can’t pronounce. However, Christoph is fast and on the ball, and he also seems to secretly like our soundtrack because every time he plays it I can spot him dancing in the tech box, waving his arms and jumping up and down.

The last thing we do before leaving the theatre is telling Polly to keep her phone on just in case they should change the time of our dress rehearsal on the following day. She nods but seems confused, she’s supposed to tech the other show she’s in (a one woman reading of Cyrano on the Moon) but instead of going to the theatre where they’re waiting for her she announces she’s going home to wait for her friend Nora who’s arriving from the airport. We offer to go to the flat at her place and let Nora in but she seems stubborn. “How about your tech, Polly?” “Oh, I’ll go later,” she says. Okay….
Polly is the “senior” member of the company and our only celebrity so we’re very fond of her.

Of course the moment Polly leaves the Festival organizer arrives and announces our dress rehearsal time has changed and we’re now on at 9am. I curse him silently as I had hoped to be able to sleep a bit longer in the morning… We call Polly to let her know but her phone is off. Oh dear. We leave a message. Two messages. Three, four. We text… No reply. We ask the other theatre whether she’s showed up for the tech. No she hasn’t. It’s now 10pm and nobody has heard from Polly. The phone is off. Does anyone know where she’s staying? No. Does anyone have Nora’s number? No…
More about it in chapter number 3..
It’s now 7pm, we’ve been teching for almost 2 hours and are tired and exausted. Food! Lee and I scream. But Becka has another 150 errands planned between now and tomorrow, plus a music rehearsal with Ellie at our flat. Okay…. can we get a bite first? Pleeeease??? Ellie proclaims she knows a restaurant where they make fab Italian food and we all follow her.
Er…    To be honest, I follow her out of desperation as I’m so hungry and exhausted I’d eat a raw mutton. In my normal state of mind I’d soundly refuse to go anywhere near an Italian restuarant when I’m abroad, especially in places such as the most touristy area of the Czech Republic. It just CAN’T be a good idea. We Italians aren’t genetically programmed to be able to bear bad Italian food. It’s against our constitution. Food is a HOLY thing in Italy. It has RULES. You put SALT in the water before cooking pasta. Not a pinch, a proper fist full of salt. We don’t do overcooked pasta. We don’t do weak coffee. We don’t have a cappuccino or tea while eating savory food!!!!!!!!! It makes no sense, it’s like putting icecream in a soup, it’s awful. They don’t go together. And the list could continue. Anyway, as soon as we reach the place I know the owners of this “PizzeriE” (why plural???) not only are not Italians but wouldn’t be able to point at Italy on a map of Europe. You can tell good Italian restaurant outside Italy by one, very simple thing: SPELLING. If the name of the dishes on offer on the menu are spelt right and make sense, it means there’s an Italian chef in the kitchen or somebody who’s spent enough time learning Italian cuisine to be able to write down BRUSCHETTA with an H and two Ts, and PARMIGIANO with one G only and no Es in it… Anyway, I gorge on my too salty pizza, that has cheddar cheese instead of mozzarella and some strange spice instead of oregano, watching Becka covering her pizza in balsamic vinegar and Ellie accompaning her breaded chicken with milky tea. Bless the Anglo-Saxons… Life is so much easier when you think canned spaghetti is acceptable food for human beings…
As soon as we finish our amazing dinner we grab Ellie’s buzuki, guitar and drums and jump on number 22 tram, heading back to our flat for more music rehearsals.
At home we find Jirka who immediately offers us a beer. Dear me I thought the Brits were alcoholics but the Czechs beat them by far. I’ve had already half a beer and reached my very pathetic limit so I ask for tea instead and so does Ellie, who by now must have drunk a couple of gallons of tea – I wonder how she prevents her bladder from exploding…
Jirka’s a spectacled, shy, Czech engineer who wakes up every morning at 5am in order to drive to a building site an hour and a half from Prague. His team is digging a sewage. “There’s not much work in constructions recently,” he says in his stilted English, ” so one needs to go where the work is.” When I ask hims where he usually goes on holiday he says he’s building a cottage just next to the site he’s working at. “So what do you do for a living,?” he asks. When we reply we’re actresses he looks at us bemused. He was obviously convinced our show was just a bit of fun, not real work. “That’s great,” he says. “That’s not too bad.” He sips his beer and sits in silence, a puzzled expression on his face, while we start rehearsing our songs. At the moment Ellie still hasn’t really understood what we want from her, and keeps turning every piece into a sort of pop/folk performance, and I can see Lee fuming under her very professional smile. “That was awsome, Ellie!” she says. “But now, can we try something different? Like, could you not play the guitar AT ALL, and just do the drums? It’d be so much more powerful…”
Lee’s a genius at giving notes to performers making them feel good about themselves even though in fact what she’s saying is that what they’ve juts done was pretty shit and they should try something different. But Ellie totally falls for the trick. “Oh yeah, she says. I was just thinking that the drum could be very atmospheric…” “And you’re totally right!” says Lee. “So forget about the guitar, ok?”
I so want to laugh. Ellie is mainly a guitarist and she’s basically just been told our show’s better off without her guitar. And she’s happy. Brilliant.
Whe, by 11.30pm, we finish rehearsing, I think my eyelids have been loaded with stones because they simply can’t stay up.
“Right, let’s go to Tesco’s and buy what we need for the set then!” says Becka, jumping up.
I only have one sentence echoing in my head I HAD 3 HOUR SLEEP LAST NIGHT AND TOMORROW WE’RE UP AT 7.30…. But I say nothing. For the first time in my life I’m almost forced to admit to myself that I don’t have the same enery of a 28 year old girl like Becka and it just sucks. I used to sleep 3 hours per night and be fine. i simply won’t let age beat me. We’re hear to do theatre. To create art! Who cares about sleeping? I can keep up with Becka, and I will!!!!
I put my jacket, scarf and hat on and I’m ready to go,
Oh yes, because I’ve forgotten to point out that on the 26th of May in Prague is so cold I’m wrapped up like at Christmas. It’s also pouring with rain.

We walked down the 3 flights of stairs into the Czech suburbian night and start walking like the 3 little Indians along a totally deserted street towards the mall. The huge sign TESCO hovers half a mile in front of us, like a star lighting our path.

Of course by the time we get there we find that only the food department is open but all the shops are closed. No way for us to make photocopies, by a mirror and find blank CDs… “Well, it means we’ll have to get up a bit earlier tomorrow and go to Pavlova to buy stuff before going to the theatre,” announces Becka. I love Becka dearly but right now I want to vaporize her. Every single cell of my body scream BED. We buy more groceries and start our slow walk back to the flat, soaked to the bones and looking like 3 refugees from Bosnia.

Before going to bed we try once again Polly’s phone: off.

CHAPTER 3: where’s Polly?

9am and we’re ready to go for our dress rehearsal, our prova generale, the only chance to do the whole show from beginning to end in our space – costumes, props, lights, audio and everything else in place. Dress rehearsals are a crucial moment in a show. They’re the last chance to correct things before the opening, the last chance to screw up, and the greatest opportunity to do the show for real without an audience.
Obviously such a great chance is slightly spoiled when one of the main actors fails to show up.
Because of course it’s 9am and there’s no sign of Polly and her phone’s still off.
Let’s start, she’ll show up. Says Lee, always the enthusiastic.
I sneak in a leave her another message on her voicemail saying something like “Polly, we’ve been calling you since last night, get your ass here NOW!!!!” I assume she probably went to bed late last night after waiting for her friends but she will get up at some point and switch the phone off… I assume wrong.
We start rehearsing without Polly and Becka and I split her parts between us. We discover that Becka not only is wonderwoman in terms of energy, she’s also memorized the whole show and she knows Polly’s poems by heart. Whatever they used to give to American babies in the 80s must have been powerful stuff…
11am, we’ve done the show once and no Polly. 12.45pm, we’ve gone through the show twice and no Polly. Her phone is still off.
We’re now positevely worried.
Becka and I don’t say it loudly but we actually fear she had a stroke or a heart attack and is lying in a allyway somewhere in central Prague.
We wait until 1pm (the original time of our dress rehearsal, the time Polly said she’d be at the theatre on the previous day) and then the official panic begins. Where IS Polly? Why is her phone still off? She can’t possibly be still in bed, she knew she had rehearsals. We become even more worried when Giles, one of the Festival’s organisers, storms in and ask to see Polly.

“No Polly here, sorry,” we say. “She hasn’t come to the dress.”
“What?” he screams. “She never showed up for her Cyrano tech at the other theatre last night either! It was at 6.30pm and we had a light technician waiting for her until 9!!”
Yes, we know the feeling.
So, to recap. Last time anyone saw Polly was at the end  of our tech, at 7pm last night. She told us she was going home to wait for Nora who was arriving from the airport. We assumed she’d let Nora in and go to her tech but in fact she never showed up at the theatre and went incommunicado.

2.15pm. No Polly. Now she’s over an hour late even according to our “old” scehdule. Right, let’s be rational. If Polly had had an accident on her way home, Nora wouldn’t have been able to get in and would have contacted the theatre. So Nora MUST have met Polly last night. Pollly was probably in a slight state of confusion as so much is going on with her having two shows at once, so she forgot about the other tech. Okaaay. Her phone battery might have been flat and she might not have an adaptor, hence the phone off. She didn’t get the message about the changed schedule so she slept until late. Yeees, but why isn’t she here NOW? NOW!

Was her confused state the sign she was having a stroke? Could she be in the hospital? Certainly Nora would have let the Festival know… Does anyone have Nora’s number? No, of course. She is actually presenting a recital of her poems at the Festival but none of the organizers has her mobile. This is flawless management, this is.

Lee is out of her mind. She swings between preoccupation and pure fury, as, knowing Polly, a part of her supects she might just be happily wandering about Old Town Square admiring the architecture and oblivious of the time…
Finally, insipiration strikes.
“Does Nora have a dress rehearsal today?” Becka asks Giles.
He checks his diary.
“Yes. 2.30 at a small theatre off Udjez (I apologize to Czech people for my wrong spelling)”
“Bingo!!! Let’s go there and ask her what the hell has happened to Polly.”
And so it is that four furies arrive at the small theatre where Nora is tech-ing and literally crash her rehearsal (pictured)

“Nora? Are you Nora? Polly’s friend?”
“Where’s Polly?”
“Why didn’t show up for our dress?”
“Why didn’t she go to her tech last night?”
“Is she all right?”
“What’s happened to her?”
Nora, a nice, Irish lady with an ironic smile on her face and a low, mellow voice looks at us puzzled.
“And you are?”
We calm down and explain the situation.
“Oh Polly is fine,” she says. “I had no idea she had a tech last night, we had supper. Her phone wasn’t working as she forgot her charger at home. We walked together to your theatre at around 2pm.”
“2pm? Why 2pm, she knew the rehersal was at 1pm. Besides we waited at the theatre until 2.15 and didn’t see her.”
“Strange… I don’t know what to say. She’s well known for being very relaxed about things. Like, she doesnt really worry about anything… She lets everyone else worry for her.”

Lee’s fuming. “I want to kill her.”
Becka’s pensive. “We’re left with the same problem: where is she?”
We called the theatre but Christoph says there no Polly there.

We return to Nora who’s been desperately trying to continue her rehearsals and very kindly invites us to watch and give feedback.
“Hold on, Nora, one last question. The theatre where you and Polly went at 2pm… was it the RUBIN?”
“Rubin? No, It was the Na Pradlo.”
Great. Polly went for our dress rehearsals to her Cyrano theatre….
The idea of the stroke returns.
While Lee and Ellie – who by now have decided they’ve had enough – sit down and start watching Nora’s recital, Becka drags me to Na Pradlo to get Polly. But, guess what, when we arrive at the theatre she’s not there either. We call her. We check every corner, including the toilets in case she’s dropped dead in one of the cubicles.
We return to Nora and watch her rehearsals.
Nora’s brilliant. Her poems about Ireland are funny, moving, ironic. Her delivery is superb. We drink cappuccino and sit with her for a chat

At the end, seeing our dispair, Nora invites us to go to the flat she’s sharing with Polly.
“She’s bound to return home at some point,” she says.
The flat they’re renting is right in the centre and gorgeous. We squat in the sitting room and start talking about the show, checking emails and sending invitations while Nora makes us tea (Ellie consumes her 5 gallons and says thanks).

After a couple of hours, at about 5pm, we hear the door…… POLLY IS BACK!!!!!

We don’t know whethere to hug her or strangle her so for the first 5 minutes we ignore her and go on rehearsing a song.
Apprently Polly has been walking around Prague trying to buy a new phone. She seems unconcerned about the fact that she missed our only dress and her own tech.
“I thought it was in the afternoon. I did text Becka from nora’s phone last night to ask if there was some changes but there was no reply. I don’t know why but I lost the other girls’ phone numbers…”
We turn to Becka.
“I’m not carrying my English sim card today! I bought a Czech card, it’s cheaper.”

Lee is banging her head against the wall.
Finally reunited we go through the show at Polly’s flat, hoping she’ll remember everything tomorrow. In the evening we go for dinner at a Hari Khrishna restaurant (another one hailed as fab by Ellie and Becka) and I gulp down blend curry and rice. Strictly vegeterian food and (more) tea is what one needs after a day like this!!!!


NINE – or a failure

Once upon a time there was a masterpiece of Italian cinema, Fellini’s “Otto e Mezzo” (Eight and a half), in which a charming, confused, sexually obsessed, quintessentially Italian (in a good AND bad way) Marcello Mastroianni re-enacted Federico Fellini’s fantasies on films and women.

The title, Eight and a half, referred to several things. The simplest explanation and the “official” one is that the film was Fellini’s 8th and the half movie (half because one was a short). More symbolical explanations see in 8 and 1/2 the age at which the lead character, Guido Contini, first discovered women and sex thanks to an old, fat prostitute, Sarraghina, who lived in a hut  metres away from his Catholic boarding school.

Guido grows up to become a succesful film director, and notorious womanizer – depite being regularly married. However, on hitting 50, the typically Catholic contrast between Holy and Profane, Sin and Virtue, the Mother/Wife type of woman  and the Lover/Whore kind, leads Guido to a breakdown. His inspiration is gone, he can’t make films anymore, he’s stuck and all his women seem to leave him at once, unwilling to go on playing his game. In his mind past memories and present fantasies mix in an oniric sequence, while his real life falls apart. But eventually, when all seems lost, the idea for a new film appears.

Once upon a time there was my favourite musical, NINE, a simple, effective, musically inspiring, visually clever stage version of “Otto e mezzo” (NINE was an easier word to fit into music than eight-and-a-half,  hence the extra six months)


I discovered NINE during my very first month in London, in late 1996, when the agent I went to see told me “Oh no, you should have come last month when they were casting for Nine! They were looking for 11 women and all with an Italian accent! You must go and see it, in case they re-cast it.”

I did as advised. NINE was a show produced by the Donmar Warehouse, at the time still under the guide of Sam Mendes – who had still to direct “American Beauty”.

It blew me away. The crazy, oniric spirit of the film was there, in all its complex paradoxes, but the dramatic structure of the show was simple: a Spa hotel in Italy, Guido barricated into a room – a press conference waiting in the hall, his old lover in the next room, his agent nagging at the door, his sexy new lover on the phone, his wife surprising him, the memories of his adoring mother and of Sarraghina the whore playing tricks in his mind. This colourful cast of incredible female characters twirled and span around Guido, singing beautiful songs like “Unusual way” and “My husband makes movies”, trying to seduce him with hilarious numbers such “A call from the Vatican”. They demand his attention, love, respect, work, while he sits on his chair unable to make sense of his life. A younger version of himself – a nine year old Guido – joins him on stage and takes him on a journey along memory lane. Sarraghina appears, together with Guido’s mother and an army of priests and nuns… Nine… If only he could be nine again and change everything…

In the Donmar version at some point Guido, forced by his producer to start shooting a film, any film, decides on a “period” piece set in Venice. The small stage filled up with a few inches of water, all actors wore 18th century wigs, and used chairs as bridges to move across the “Venice Lagune”. It was an incredibly visually effective scene, fiction within fiction within fiction. No need for special effects and expensive sets, some water, two wigs and a few chairs and Venice was there. Real theatre magic. Brilliant.

Once upon a time there was NINE  the film, a movie that cost 80 million dollars, boasted a stellar cast of Hollywood stars, and a director, Rob Marshall, who had previously achieved the impossible task of turning one of the least cinematic musicals, Chicago, into a superb film.

But NINE the film is a flop. Nine the film is a bore. Nine the film is by far one of the least engaging musicals I’ve ever seen. Nine the film is a stellar confusion. Why?


Here’s my opinion. 

Fellini’s 8 and 1/2 and Nine the stage musical told the same story but were not the same thing. In both cases the directors managed to achieve the best their specific MEDIA could offer. So Fellini’s used the oniric potential of cinema to play out his fantasies and frustrations, trusting Mastroianni’s ironic and melancholic charm and the power of images. The great virtue of Nine the stage musical was in taking 8 and 1/2 structural elements – a charming womaniser in a midlife crisis, the women of his life, a film that can’t be shot – and turning them into a quintessentially theatrical performance, challenging,entertaining and moving.

NINE the film doesn’t know what it wants to be, other than a soup re-heated 3 times. A great film it ain’t as it’s too packed with too long dance numbers and the story is so diluted it gets lost; and it fails to be even an acceptable musical, despite using 70% of the stage version tunes, as the best ones have either been cut, re-written or placed in the wrong scene.  All the new songs – of which there was no need – are banal, long and tuneless. Nine the film isn’t a remake of 8 and 1/2 in music, and it isn’t the faithful film version of the stage musical. It’s a sort of mixbetween the two and in its inability to make the most of its medium fails as a film and is only a pale, worse version of the stage show. 

 Nine oozes glamour and money at every shot but it’s all giltzy frame and no content. Nothing could be more different from both the simplicity of the theatre version and the dream-like, naive fantasies of the original film than its superglam choreographies and its beauty-contest dancers. Fellini’s films  told the fantasies of the post war Italian men, a men who dreamed about big tits and blond prostitutes improvising rumbas in the streets, not Kidman-esque anorexic actresses in immaculate design clothes.

Chicago was unrealistic, runchy, theatrical and grotesque. Nobody would have tried to spot in it the true 1920s Chicago. Nine isn’t theatrical enough to be unrealistic and grotesque and it’s not filmic enough to be realistic and believable. It’s like a TV advert, only two hours long. Glamourous women immaculately dressed, beautiful men on scooters, fine restaurants, elegant shops, and then glitter, glitter, glitter. It’s Italy through the eyes of a gay American tourist.  I expected George Clooney coming up any minute advertising “Nespresso” coffee…

If Marshall had at least followed the structure of the original show, the story would have been clear. But by swapping songs round, adding characters that don’t mean anthing, changing locations he confuses the viewer who’s never seen the show and highly disappoints Nine’s fans. 

Basically, after 30 minutes the audience that hasn’t seen the theatre show has no clue what the film is about, after 45 minutes they still don’t know but begin not to care and after one hour they think they’d have been better off watching AVATAR as this is boring like hell.

And the lack of irony!!! Nine takes itself increidbly seriously – which is another thing Fellini always avoided and the stage version never did. Everything that made the show light and enjoyable has gone. Forgotten is the great song “Italians at the Spa” with its sequel of awkward characters crowding the hotel where Guido is hiding. Instead we have Peneope Cruz singing “A call from the Vatican” totally out of context (the irony of Guido pretending to be on the phone with a Monsignore while being sexually provoked lost between the close ups on Cruz’s bum). With a total lethal choice Cruz’s character, Carla, is transformed from sexy, fun, no ties lover to married woman carrying a long term secret relationship with Guido who ends up commiting suicide in a dodgy pensione, where her ugly fat husband finds her almost dead… A cheap melodrama that doesn’t add anything and simply ruins the fun of Carla’s character.

From vamp to wimp.

But other characters have also been ruined. In the frenzic attempt to cram as many big names as possible into one movie – just in case they’d all die in 2010  – the delicate, complex, beautiful Claudia – Guido’s muse and great love – has been relegated to 5 minutes two third of the way into the movie.  Then there’s Judy Dench, impeccable and amazing as usual, but playing the totally useless made-up role of  a costume designer. Why is a costume designer doing on a set of a film that hasn’t been written yet, it’s not clear. Marion Cotilliard is a fantastic actress and singer, and probably the best performer in the movie. But she’s far too young for the role of Guido’s long term wife, who should obviously be his same age, since she sings about their past together. Of course the words of the beautiful “My husband makes movies” have been changed to accomodate such changes, and the fact that she’s now a Parisian actress who goes back to acting after leaving Guido. Useless to say, the original was a million times more powerful.

And it goes on. The hilarious role of the arrogant, middle aged, French film reviewer has disappeared in favour of a silly blond American journalist played by Kate Hudson who also appears for only 5 minutes to seduce Guido and sing an awful song dancing like a “velina” on Italian tv.

And can I point out that, for a film that has 10 Italian women as protagonists, there are NO ITALIAN ACTRESSES on sight except a superbotoxed Sophia Loren? 

This is appaling! We do have good actresses in Italy, why do you need to cast a Spaniard, a French and an AUSTRALIAN WITH NO FACIAL EXPRESSIONS as Italian?? And what is it with Americans and Sophia Loren? Or is with gays and Sophia loren? Get over her! Ok, she was beautiful and sexy 50 years ago, but so was the Adriatic Sea, Queen elizabeth and Tom Jones, and nobody goes on and on about them. And even 50 years ago, she couldn’t act! Anna Magnani was the greatest Italian actress of that time, not Loren. Claudia Cardinale was a million times more stunning and still is, since she doesn’t have that orange glow that Loren now boasts thanks to fake tan!!! Sophia Loren… Oh dear me. If she’s believable as Daniel Day Lewis’ mother I want to be cast as Denzel Washington’s natural son.

When the original score WOULD have offered the opportunity for drama, tragedy and emotions, Marshall  prefers to cut. So gone is “Simple”, gone is “The bells of Saint Sebastian”… “Unusual way”, one of the most beautiful songs written for musical theatre in the past 15 years, passes almost unnoticed, thanks to an editing that focuses on fountains and architecture rather than on the lyrics. Perhaps the director was trying to distract us from Nicole Kidman’s uninspiring singing… For sure Kidman couldn’t be more wrongly cast as Claudia, a role that requires a passionate, curvy and Italian actress, not an Australian icy queen whose face is paralized by botox.

The fact that Anthony Minghella interfered with the screenplay might have had a role in making a shamble of Nine. I hate talking idly of the dead, but Minghella directed the worst melodramas in cinema history, such as the English Patient, and the horrific Return to Blue Mountain. Minghella’s greatest ability was to take a good book (or show in this case) and turn it into a neverending, boring, over the top, unlikely melodrama, adding some incredibly camp touches on the way. 

Another huge flaw in the film, that contribute to its “heaviness”, so unlike the lightness of its tow predecessors, is the lead actor, Daniel Day Lewis. In 8 and 1/2, despite his crisis, Guido was a charming, handsome, genial womanizer who never lost his sense of humour.  Guido’s “block” in the film and the theatre show was, in Freudian terms, the result of the sense of guilt his Catholic mother has instilled in him. But it wasn’t seen as a world’s tragedy. More like the personal struggle of a supposedly “big” but in fact very small, middle aged man. Guido feels dirty, corrupted, but at the same time he loves his corruption and knows that somehow his art is linked to his dark side. 

Nine the film takes Guido’s crisis incredibly seriously. Daniel Day Lewis is indeniably a great actor, but irony, self deprecation and lightness aren’t his forte. There isn’t one single light note in his Guido, as there isn’t a single Italian note in his odd, vaguely Russian, fake Italian accent. He might have spent months reseraching his role, but perhaps he would have been better off relaxing and having a glass of wine on a beach, as his trying so hard in this case is counterproductive. He just doesn’t GET it.  Mastroianni was charming, funny, melancholic. Raul Julia, who played Guido at the Donmar, shared the same qualities. Antonio Banderas – who played the role on Broadway – was sexy, akward and cocky. DDL is such an annoying, self centred, miserable womanizer with no charm who hardly ever smiles.

In fact… George Clooney would have been much better, thinking about it. He could have winked at his love for silly, glamorous Italian women with big tits and sold Nespresso coffee at the same time! And I’m pretty sure his singing voice is not worse than DDL’s…

Really, somebody should have explained the film to poor Danny, pity everyone is apparently too terrified of him to actually speak to gim. Danny, Danny, why are you so impossible? I was told Marshall didn’t even have the guts to ask him to re-voice parts of his performances where the accent really didn’t work (and this isn’t gossip. This I KNOW. How do I know? I can’t say.) 

Yes, DDL has played some great roles in the past but perhaps somebody should extract the huge pillar stuck inside his behind so he could start relaxing and realising he’s not God, just a performer.

What a pity, what a lost chance… Well, let’s look at the bright side. Since Nine the film will be soon forgotten, I can go on using A call from the Vatican and Unusual Way as audition songs, as they will remain fairly unknown.

For the joy of my friend Billy who always asks me to sing them.

who’s not wearing any clothes? I’m not!!! BAMBINO…