Tutto Bene, Mamma? at The Print Room

Tutto Bene, Mamma? adapted by April de Angelis
from play by Gloria Mina

Directed by Ewan Marshall
June-July 2013
The Print Room

There are experimental plays set in the dark whose darkness forms an integral part of their playwrights’ first conceptions. Peter Shaffer’s 1965 farce Black Comedy opens in darkness but outrageously stages its performed blackouts in light. Samuel Beckett did not want All That Fall (1956) staged at all because he conceived of it having no “visual dimension”, its “quality” dependent on its “coming out of the dark”. All That Fall was written as a radio play, and no doubt Beckett would have wanted it to receive the respect that Howard Barker said his parents gave radio plays when they used to turn the lights out to listen.

Playwright Gloria Mina chose to set Tutto in darkness largely to solve a number of problems in staging her story about a single mother and her son, but also because she had been inspired by the performances of Teatro Ciego (Blind Theatre) in her native Buenos Aires. When April de Angelis decided to adapt Enrica Dal Santo’s English translation of Mina’s Italian play for The Print Room, De Angelis wanted to make more of the darkness and of sight itself, weaving them into the play’s texture as guiding themes. Tutto of course shares with other plays set in darkness the requirement that actors and audience members give up the urge to see for a brief time and rely wholly on their other senses. When Tutto was premiered to sell-out audiences in Milan in May 2012, co-directors Mina and Sergio Masieri even had audience members taste pizza before they entered the theatre, and their sense of touch was gratified by them being given toys related to elements in Mina’s original play: barbie dolls if they were female and toy squirrels if they were male.

For this production, audience members will have to depend upon their senses of hearing and smelling alone. Many of the smells will be similar to those used in the Milan production, but the sounds are entirely new. Originally, the play was set in an in isolated American house surrounded by silence, far different from the housing project in Memphis, Tennessee, that Mina read about in a 1999 newspaper account of Travis Butler and his mother Crystal Wells. De Angelis and Director Ewan Marshall chose to move the play to working-class Naples and thus capture the flavour of the country and language in which it was written. Soundscape Artist Benny Nilsen then spent two and half days with Marshall recording the noises of Naples streets at all hours, including the sounds of caged canaries and Italian voices that form a mysterious backdrop to the ongoing drama in the apartment.