Writer: Dario Fo
Director: Michael Ward
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
With political theatre returning to the mainstream in the past year, it was only a matter of time before Dario Fo’s work was revived. With a particular focus on the failures of capitalism that ensures the poor are exploited to protect the rich, Fo’s extensive work over 60 years remains distinctiveness. 18 months after his death, Theatre of Heaven & Hell present a farcical revival of his 1986 kidnapping story that was translated as Abducting Diana in 1994.
Media mogul and influencer Diana is inexpertly abducted by a group of masked men and held in a mysterious location while they wait for her ransom. But Diana is much smarter than the people who apprehended her and quickly turns the tables on them. Using all her power, she attempts to uncover who ordered the job, convincing her kidnappers to join her in a new plan that will make them all rich and famous.
While Fo’s work is famous for being partially improvisation Director Michael Ward’s production is a strangely mixed and scrappy affair, employing several types of humour that don’t quite form a consistent, or consistently funny story. There are elements of absurdism, satire and even pantomime melded together with visual humour that aren’t nearly as much fun as they could be. And while the kidnappers’ masks representing Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Kim Jung-un and Nigel Farage are a pointed statement, they don’t quite make sense in Angela Loucaides suggestive 1980s design that uses an old typewriter and phone.
The story itself has some interesting things to say about the way in which Diana manipulates her captors, the role of the media in sensationalising criminal activity and the sliding scales of capitalism that leave the kidnappers with a poor monetary payoff, while taking a bigger risk than the mysterious organiser with a greater likelihood of jail. But these are just moments in a loose and often confusing structure whose convolutions become increasingly difficult to follow.
All of the performances are deliberately exaggerated and, as Diana, Elena Clements has by far the most interesting character, a strong and manipulative woman who easily outsmarts anyone else in the room. Clements relishes the bossy aspects of the role, and shows Diana quickly taking command of the situation in what is essentially reverse Stockholm Syndrome. While there is some focus on Diana’s media role and her wealth, there could be much more to say about the double she employs and the issue of identity which the performance only hints at.
As the kidnapper trio, Sarah Day-Smith, Darren Ruston and Marcus Clements are only distinguished by their masks, with little in their characters to tell them apart. They’re not particularly scary but have some amusing moments as they try to figure out whether they should trust Diana and are a useful tool to explain the dwindling proceeds of crime but have little individual purpose.
Additional characters only add to the confusion, with Nicholas Bright as another victim whose loyalties are ambiguous, Jake William Francis as a passing priest and Brian Eastty as Diana’s mother in full old lady wig and suit. Its clear that no one is quite who you think they are from one scene to the next, but the plot doesn’t particularly matter in the end.
Theatre of Heaven & Hell’s production is a little messy, with occasional dialogue entirely drowned out by shrieking, sound effects out of sync with the performance (so phones continue to ring after they’ve been picked up) and a mixed approach to humour that doesn’t quite let the audience in on the joke. The cast look like they’re having a lot of fun, but Fo’s political purpose becomes rather lost in the fog.
Runs until: 17 March 2018 | Image: Contributed