The plot of Liolà sounded so unpromising that I nearly gave it a miss. Small town boy in love with girl who’s gone off and gotten married to the richest man around – who cares? And at the start of the National’s production, it was all singing and dancing jolly peasants with curiously misplaced Irish accents (rural poverty = Irish?) and all I could think was, my God, this is going to be another on of those trying nights at the Lyttleton. I was interested in seeing Pirandello after my many visits to Sicily, but if it was going to be corny, feel good, “heart of gold” baloney, well, maybe he was just one of those playwrights I just don’t like.
But … the story changed from what I was expecting it to be. Rather that purely focusing on the really bad behavior of Liola (who’s the father of three children he’s taken in to be raised by his mother – this in the days where a child out of wedlock meant a lifetime of poverty for a young woman), the story is more focused on Mita (Lisa Dwyer Hogg), the young woman who’s been his best friends since they were little. She’s been married to Simone for five years, and he scorns her for not producing a child – why else would he bother marrying a worthless, orphaned peasant girl? Their relationship is actually rather painful to watch, but it’s made even more spikey by the way the villagers mock Simone for his failures of fertility. It does actually create a situation where Mita is a real object of pity. So for Liola (Anthony Delaney) to want to try to help her … well, you wish someone else would take her side, at the same time you think that maybe Simone needs to rethink his priorities in life.
As the play evolves, though, it becomes more about how the nastier elements in the village can be outwitted rather than (as I was expecting) a big romance, and it winds up being uplifting and genuinely funny. It all moves very quickly – just barely 90 minutes – and left me feeling really cheerful. You know what? At 12 quid, this play was a real treat, an unusual pleasure – not particularly deep but a lovely night at the theater. Consider it recommended.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, August 1st, 2013. It continues through November 6th.)