Brighton Fringe 2023
The story of a young Italian man going to fight for his country in the Soviet Union during World War II.
Trouble In The Square is an international collective at the beginning of their theatrical journey, who present Il Burattino at Rotunda’s Bubble tent. We meet Tino (Miguel Mota), an orphan in Piemonte, North West Italy, living in the rural foothills of the Alps, close to the Swiss border. It is 1942 ; Europe is in the midst of a devastating war, one that, as it transpires, will cast a shadow over the continent for next half of a century. Tino’s closest friend, Romero (Ashley Stevens), has been called up to fight for his country. Romero has a deep-rooted hated of the fascists, having seen both his parents killed by them, but moreover wishes to follow in many of his forebears’ footsteps and emigrate to America. He is persuaded by the American dream, rather than Mussolini’s ambition of restoring the Roman Empire in the Mare Nostrum. Milana (Raya Stoykova) is a young woman from the same area, who has a romantic interest in Tino, although he appears to be oblivious to this. When Tino is drafted, he sees it as his opportunity to step out of his older friend Romero’s shadow and serve his country. Romero, on the other hand, is plotting his escape into neutral Switzerland ; both he and Milana urge Tino to flee, to no avail. Milana makes Tino a puppet – the eponymous il burattino – as his companion on his quest.
The fascist forces that surged eastwards into the Soviet Union in 1941/42 contained German, Hungarian, Romanian and Italian armies (the Armata Italiana in Russia). However, the Italians were barely trained, weakly led and poorly equipped. Crucially, the invasion was predicated on an ideology that many troops did not buy into, or became disenchanted with. Tino’s mood is initially buoyant with territorial gains and perhaps the hope of victory feeding his sense of purpose. However, as the horrors of the eastern front and the scale of the military challenge become clear, the morale in Russia dissipates and domestic public opinion swings against the war, leading to disillusion with Mussolini’s plans. Tino’s routines with the puppet, formerly a source of entertainment for his colleagues, begin to reflect this groundshift. The Armata Italiana lost more than 100,000 men in the east : dead, missing or injured. The chances of a safe return were therefore not high and Tino’s fate is in stark contrast with that of Romero.
While this is most definitely a good body of work, with a firm footing in historical accuracy, the production has the feel of a stepping stone towards a finessed piece. The performances are uneven, though Stoykova conveys Milana’s journey convincingly. The relationships between characters frequently need further development, e.g. it is unclear why the commanding officer in Russia permits Tino to be bullied. From the writing perspective, Tino had plenty of reasons to not go to the front, yet he still signed up, leaving the audience with a sense of undetermined character intention. The pace of direction was pretty good, though some of the physicality lacked conviction sometimes and the PA announcement, delivered after the performance had started with Mota firmly established in character, needs re-thinking. However, there is a decent show here and we can anticipate Trouble In The Square building on this Fringe production – the message that humans are usually the sum of our choices is well made.