“David Bromley brings Colyer’s words to life with impressive energy”
Italo Svevo was a correspondence clerk, then a businessman. Now, in his sixties, he is finally getting recognition for his writing. Thanks to his friend James Joyce, his new novel is the talk of Paris. One reviewer even says he’s a genius: ‘the Italian Proust’. But it’s difficult to enjoy such success when Fascism has taken over your country. When, Svevo wonders, will Mussolini turn his attention to him? When will his work be banned? Having just emerged, is he about to disappear?
Howard Colyer’s monologue has Svevo ruminating on this and much more, as he waits for the reviews of his new play. As his mind runs back and forth between his present fear and past triumph, Svevo himself runs up and down a ladder and all around the room, occasionally bumping into a fragment of the past that has found itself on the floor or in an old suitcase. It’s like his mind has exploded and he’s just started picking up the pieces. Karl Swinyard stuffs Svevo’s house in Trieste with details: a noticeboard is covered in clippings, dates, and the note “L.C.” (Last Cigarette), an old chest lies drowned in a sea of books. The shuttered windows are a reminder of the hidden world outside, but nothing, not even Mussolini himself, can touch Svevo’s ancient typewriter or worn violin. It is beautiful and evocative, a little corner of the world trapped in its own time.
David Bromley brings Colyer’s words to life with impressive energy. He gives Svevo lightness and likability, making his stories interesting and his eccentricities charming: it is difficult to dislike him. Bromley also does several turns as important people in Svevo’s life – Joyce, Mussolini, suspicious mother-in-law Olga – and executes them with a comic touch. It feels as though he is having fun in the role, which makes him easy to watch.
But, whilst Bromley gives more than enough to this production, an important figure is missing: Joyce, who shaped so much of Svevo’s life. Although several anecdotes are told, they are not the highlights they deserve to be, and become lost within Colyer’s muddled structure. His attempt to write in a Modernist style is successful, but it comes at the expense of some of the key moments. Whilst some events come to life before our eyes with stunning realness, others feel flat. Given that Svevo led such a varied life, it is a real shame that it cannot be presented with the same flair with which it was lived.
As a Man Grows Younger isn’t a play that will change the world, but it is still a reminder of the power, beauty and necessity of words in a time of crisis. For a man who thought he was about to disappear, Svevo and his story remain more vibrant than ever.
“delivers on festive cheer and wholesome family entertainment”
Upon arrival, the corridor to the theatre is packed with an expectant audience, all of adult size barring one. Nonetheless there is a feeling of festive excitement. It seems no matter how suited up and cynical we become, everybody wants a little bit of magic this time of year, and a Christmas Cinderella show seems just the ticket.
Four of the five cast members begin as puppeteers for paper birds and an infant Ella, whilst Bryan Pilkington plays a benevolent and charming father. We’re introduced to Ella first as a crying bundle in a basket, then as a marionette; a clever bit of prop use sees a pair of empty boots being puppeteered about to portray Ella’s adolescence, and finally we are introduced to Molly Byrne as the fully-grown Ella.
Her father’s death is announced by the arrival of step-siblings played by Aimee Louise Bevan and Joel Black, wearing private school uniforms and punishing scowls. Bryan Pilkington transforms effortlessly on stage from kindly father to evil step-mother as he dons a haughty countenance, house coat and matching snood.
The general plot plays out as we expect, with Ella flung in to the role of lowly servant Cinderella, generally being tormented by her new and nasty family. She of course retains a twinkle in her eye and, whilst playing in the forest, she encounters the prince, as played by Charlie Bateman. Here the two bond over a shared avian passion, and Cinderella impresses with her great knowledge of bird calls rather than an innate delicacy and ladylikeness as the classic fairytale would have it, whilst Bateman’s prince is all limbs and enthusiasm, over the sullen and rebellious heir we have come to expect. Instead of glass slippers we have studded Dr. Martens, and instead of the dreaded panto audience participation, we have a pleasantly awkward chat with the prince, trying out his party banter. Most pleasing of all the production choices, though, is Ella’s stepbrother who, rather than conforming to the two-dimensional spoilt brat trope, shows some character nuance, developing a kinship with Ella and gaining her trust as a confidante. Black plays both nasty and nice equally convincingly, and though he’s let down a little by his singing, he pulls off the part very well.
Whilst it’s near impossible to avoid the syrupy sweetness of the Cinderella fairytale, the slightly bloody ending smacks a little of Roald Dahl’s take on proceedings rather than Walt Disney’s, and we enjoy a fairly ominous minor pastiche of ‘The Birds’ in serving the evil step-mother her just deserts.
Well-timed lighting and sound give the illusion of a much grander set-up than a fifty-seat pub theatre, and on the whole, the production does a lot with a little. There are some ropey vocals, and at times there’s a bit too much acting considering the intimacy of the auditorium, nonetheless, the Jack Studio Theatre delivers on festive cheer and wholesome family entertainment.