Tally’s Blood – Perth Theatre

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Writer: Ann Marie Di Mambro

Director: Ken Alexander

There’s something majestic about old Italian confectionary stores in Scotland, specifically Glasgow. But in 1940, as Italy joined the war on the wrong side of history, the public turned on those much-beloved members of the community. And the titular Tally’s Bloodthe public sought is no longer just a dash of raspberry sauce.

Over thirty years since it was written and twenty years since director Ken Alexander last staged the show, its accuracy to the continued vilification of immigrants into the UK, the quickness with which we turn on those we call neighbours and friends and its earnest impressions of placing love (familial, national, or romantic), above the traumas and words we hurl at one another, are still as ripe as they were in 2003.

A sundae of melodramatic flavours, Ann Marie Di Mambro’sTally’s Bloodoffers audiences a splendorous serving of everything one may expect in a historical family piece: a lashing of humour and heart with a side of history and budding romances. The Pedreschis have run a shop (two, much to Massimo’s father’s frustrations) for years now in Glasgow with his wife Rosinella, and niece, who is very much now his surrogate daughter Lucia. And even as the shadow of war approaches, Massimo is reminded time and again that the family are safe. That the people like him. But the brutal reality of humanity’s quickness to turn on ‘aliens’ becomes the lynchpin of change for the production.

With the opening of a window, we sail from the cool air of the Glasgow tenements and into the envelopment of the Italian sun thanks to Fraser Lappin’s design, paired with Wayne Dowdeswell’s lighting. It’s a necessary freshness from the intentionally claustrophobic set, Alexander making full use of the levels of the production, from the Ginger stock room where Lucina and Scottish lad Hughie tidy the inventory, to the main living area, and in the final act incorporates an additional layer to funnel a touch more romance into it all as audiences follow this family from the mid-thirties and through to the end of the war and into the fifties.

Blood brothers, but without the blood – Lucia and Hughie are the best of friends from an early age, ‘ginger siblings’ as they put it, forgoing the usual ritual of drawing blood instead of swapping saliva through a bottle of ginger to seal the pact. The touching element of their relationship is its beginning as a friendship, both Chiara Sparkes and Craig McLean putting in sterling work to portray the characters across various ages, each distinct from the bouncing naivety of youth, the awkwardness of teenage years, and the more controlled sense of self as they grow into young adults.

There’s nothing quite as powerful and frightening as a mother’s love. And while Rosinella may be Lucia’s aunt, the maternal instinct, fire and yes, control, which Carmen Pieraccini brings to the production is tangible throughout. A crucial part of it all, with an ear to the window and a finger in everyone’s business, Pieraccini carries Rosinella with a degree of humanity that saves the role from becoming antagonistic over their treatment of Dani Heron’s Bridget. And where Rosinella’s stern hand offers guidance for the family, it is Andy Clark’s Uncle Massimo who brings a necessary humbleness which cuts through to the production’s unyielding acknowledgement of Britain’s treatment of Italians (and far too many other nationalities) who find themselves the scapegoats of world politics.

The agony of war and the virile hatred thrust upon so many across Europe is present but there’s room for an emphasis in Di Mambro’s script – it leads to an assertive scene, one which could even be taken further with the projection and sound design, that simpers as quickly as it builds. But the grief remains. And that’s the power in Alexander’s direction, the impact and the pain which follows, rather than a focus on the hurt in the moment. It’s painted across the faces of the cast, though not always expressed in words, is carried in the shape and physical mannerisms, even evolving between scenes to demonstrate the weight of it all as with the loss of Paul James Corrigan’s hugely charismatic and playful Franco.

Tally’s Blood is a marvellous re-staging of a classic often left to the curriculums of high schools more than the stage. It’s unafraid to be a Scottish piece that challenges the ideals of the nation’s culture and often faulty proclamation of inclusivity showing how quickly we turn on those who embody the culture. Perth Theatre, The Gaiety, Ayr, and Cumbernauld Theatre come together to scoop out a profoundly human and humorous Scottish classic – served to audiences with charm, laughter and an all too familiar pertinence.

Runs until 30 September 2023 then tours | Image: Mihaela Bodlovic

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Serves Charm and Pertinence

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