Oh, Bologna!

Mon 8th – Thu 11th August 2011


May Anderson

at 10:04 on 10th Aug 2011



One of the beauties of the Fringe is that it nurtures some of the most niche theatrical forms and this American High School student production of an original piece of Commedia dell’arte theatre is certainly one of the more specialist forms of theatre you will find at this year’s Fringe. For those not familiar with Commedia dell’arte, it’s a type of improvised comedy that originated in 14th Century Italy which employed stock characters, such as the mischievous servant Arlecchino or the miserly merchant Pantalone, creating laughs with masks, slapstick and obscene gags. Pantomime and Punch & Judy are its distant derivatives.

This tiny cast of four, who have to double up roles in almost all cases, are all natural comedic talents and accomplished performers, at ease on the stage and in their roles. The anarchic spirit of Commedia dell’arte is successfully revived by this production but they also manage to update the jokes, with references to the Princess Bride, Twitter and Optimus Prime, without the comedy feeling forced or irrelevant. The plot is largely extraneous to the play but it revolves around the wooing of the beautiful Isabella and the delivery of a picture frame. Commedia dell’arte is however all about the jokes and slapstick and these are very well received by the audience of mainly American students (who gave the performers a standing ovation at the show’s end). As in a lot of these American High School student productions however a lot of the cultural references are lost on a British audience, but when I appeared to be one of only two British people in the audience perhaps these productions can afford to ignore, to a certain extent, the tastes of their host nation.

One of the most impressive aspects of the productions was the fact that as well as playing two roles in some cases they were also creating the quaint sound effects that accompanied each scene. Employing kazoos, coconut shells and a xylophone with impeccable timing to heighten the comedy upon the stage, they managed to bring a sense of fun and light-heartedness to the action without resorting to big-budget effects. ‘Oh Bologna!’ is sheer old-fashioned silliness and whilst the slapstick might not be to everyone’s taste the dedication and talent of the cast make this a production that deserves to be seen.


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