Dickens loved Italy. His favourite city was Genoa, wonderfully described in his ‘Pictures from Italy’. In 1995 I was privileged to obtain a teacher’s exchange with the Liceo Luther King in the Sturla area of this fascinating city, one of the four original great Italian maritime republics which included Venice, Pisa and Amalfi, and visited the house where Dickens stayed.
Italy features in several of Dickens’ writings, most particularly in that masterpiece, ‘Little Dorrit’, where, apart from wonderful landscape descriptions, there is also a scathing satire on the provincial attitude of many English people when they travel abroad, Alas, it seems little has changed among too many of them even today.
We love both Italy and Dickens and for many years participated in the festival which takes place in another of Dickens’ favourite cities, Rochester which features prominently in those engrossing novels ‘Great Expectations’ and that tantalizingly unfinished ‘Mystery of Edwin Drood.’
Here are some pictures of us over the years participating in that equally fascinating place.
It was, thus, wonderful to be able to be part of a staged production of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ adapted as ‘Luci di Natale’ in Bagni di Lucca’s Teatro Accademico. Thanks to the combined efforts of actors and singers Guendalina Tambellini, Michela Innocenti and Claudio Sassetti of ‘Ciak’ theatre training association, we were able to mount a convincing production of a play which was very received by an audience which included such worthies as our own mayor, deputy mayor, ex councillors, bookshop owners and themselves actors and writers Rebecca and Luca and many others.
This was the first time I’d ever trodden the boards in a public theatre. I’d never acted before, not even in a school play (mainly because I’d been riddled by a stammering speech impediment which I’ve gradually managed to conceal) so this was truly a first. Better late than never as they say! The play was mostly written in a late nineteenth century Italian and certainly my biggest problem was to master the lines. Fortunately, Sandra arrived at the last moment and managed to help me out. But, of course, there’s a lot more to stagecraft than just learning one’s lines. I learned a new Italian word ‘le Scalette’ which means working out your entrances, exits and stage movements. I also learnt an essential part of Italian pre-performance ritual. The actors and producers get together in a circle holding hands under the stage and wave their hands up and down three times shouting ‘merda, merda, merda’ (no translation needed). They then give a smart slap on each other’s bottom. I thought this was rather quaint.
My main part was Scrooge but, as it was a play within a play, I also took other characters and then there were some poems interspersed with a lovely English one too.
After the performance we joined the audience for prosecco and panettone in the foyer. The congratulations we received were truly genuine and we felt we’d really given our spectators some pre-Christmas magic. That’s the main point of theatre: to transport people to another, parallel world reflecting so many points about the real world we live in.
We, too, had entered into that magic world and become the characters we represented. Words, actions and sentiments all united in that magic world – I suppose that is the real secret of successful theatre which we certainly felt we’d transmitted successfully to a grateful section of Bagni di Lucca’s public.
Here are some photographs of last night’s production taken by proloco chairperson Valerio Ceccarelli since obviously I wasn’t able to photograph ourselves while on stage! There’s also going to be a video available if you’ve missed us in action.
(PS We all contributed in making the frightening papier-maché mask for Marley’s ghost.)
Thanks are due to our wonderful teaching and supporting group and to several other people, including my friend Annalisa for making that wonderful Scrooge stovepipe hat!)
All in all, it was a lot of hard word but in the end entraining and fun for all concerned. It certainly gave me a completely new perspective on theatre and actors – something which I’ll never forget when I next go to watch a play as part of the audience!