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Edinburgh Fringe 2011

Caruso and the Monkey House Trial

Prodigal Theatre collaboration with Andrew G Marshall

Genre: Drama


 Hill Street Theatre


Low Down

Ignacio Jarquin performs impressively in a well penned study of both the Great Caruso brought low, and a period of history that has resonances with today.



In November 1906, Enrico Caruso was charged with carrying out an  indecent act allegedly committed in the monkey house of New York’s Central Park Zoo. A policeman accused him of inappropriately touching of a married woman which Caruso deined. He was later found guilty and fined 10 dollars. Outrage ensued, suspicions aroused that he may have been entrapped by a conspiracy, and his adoring followers soon forgot the incident and Caruso still wowed the crowds with his voice. And it is in fine voice that Ignacio Jarquin begins this touching and engaging play by Andrew G. Marshall.
Enrico Caruso is a figure that my parents generation are most familiar with. Yet this is a play that speaks to all generations, espcially with recent events in a hotel room in New York!
Ignacio Jarquin looks and sings the part. The play opens on Caruso singing and quickly switches to an oath to tell the truth, defending himself against false charges. He inhabits the part fully, creating a full bodied believability. As a singer he is not the singer of record and radio recordings, nor does he try to be. Jarquin portrays a more human Caruso, locked in a cell, accused of indecent behavior in public. Can he even trust his secretary? The singing is both performance and also a window into Caruso’s distress and emotional landscape.
There’s some sharp verbal and visual humour within the serious material. Caruso defends  himself through storytelling and physical theatre set just at the right pitch – movement is simple and the set is minimal – a table and a cloth allowing our attention to rest wholly on the performer. Visually there’s a terrific moment as Caruso sings on a stool on a table and we are suddenly on this stage, on his level with him and suddenly there’s a sense of audience-performer fellowship. Caruso can be pompous, superior, yet also vulnerable and simply human. The god brought low, or perhaps the man, always just a man at core.
Andrew G Marshall’s story style engages from the start and the only quibble I have is with the placement of some of the songs that interrupt the narrative on occasions. Also the narrative flow dropped a little in the middle of the piece – pace seemed to slow unnecessarily, but soon picked up again.
But this isn’t just a story, it’s a study of justice and injustice, celebrity and conspiracy. With recent events surrounding Wikileaks and the Baltter case in the U.S,  there’s a voice here reaching through history to the present day. We can suddenly be brought low, on the word of someone else, and those in the public eye’s tower of cards can quickly come tumbling down at the drop of an accusatory hat.
This is both a well penned and imagined study of a historical moment as well as an excellent character study brought vivdly to the stage by the charismatic Ignacio Jarquin and Prodigal Thestre. The ability to evoke a period of history and invoke a character so completely is a testament to the passion for detail at the heart of Prodigal’s work, Marshall’s writing, and Jarquin’s performance. FringeReview strongly recommends you spend an hour at Hill Street Theatre in the company of the Great Caruso. Was he guilty of this crime? We’ll leave that up to you to decide for we, the audience, are the ladies and gentlemen of the jury.