FringeReview Scotland 2016
Lorenzo Novani takes us along a path that goes from the receipt of his deceased father’s fish and chip shop to how he convinced people he was his father’s son, how he ended up being estranged from his father’s side and how this entirely bamboozling Italian offer he couldn’t refuse was host to a variety of divergent and deeply thought through caricatures who highlight and mystify in equal measure.
The Scottish/Italian communities have been much in the spotlight with Scottish theatre companies recently and this fits within the genre of self-regarding and illuminating theatre. A community which has been at the forefront of the immigration debate for decades without bringing attention to itself, the Italian community has fed us and introduced us to the cornucopia of sweet and hot drinks that endeared it to our hearts. What is fascinating here is the looking out from being within.
Being handed the family business is one thing, maintaining the standards set by your ancestors another but then finding that there was little by way of standards makes losing about 6p per fritter more poignant. Added to the ability to engage and draw us into a world with which we have little experience Novani has created a theatrical piece that knows what it is and delivers what it knows very well.
There is a love and admiration alongside a puzzlement as he brings in a variety of caricatures that highlight the lows and the highs of his youth. We hear of uncles that would have graced the West Coast cliché at a wedding and a Nona who is all Italian heart and blindness to the activities of her husband. The customers and serving staff are lovingly crafted, not just to provide comic interludes but to draw out the community that this wee shop served. That they serve as ciphers rather than fleshed out characters is entirely appropriate as it fits with the confusion of our guide; the inability to get beyond any surface.
The script allows us to tackle what are the basic and the difficult topics in getting what you deserve and not being sure why you deserved it. Then you have to wonder what you are going to do with it and Novani has taken on his father’s shop for a year to see what it shall bring him. It returns intrigue, pathos, comedy and not a little confusion.
Of course this is not strictly autobiographical and we may assume that the medium for his delivery of the tale – Riccardo – is drawn so perfectly that it cannot but benefit from Novani’s own experiences of having a chip shop owning father who suffered episodes of psychotic depression. The script zings with authenticity and now that there is a new eye – director Mark Coleman – we have a very assured performance that take self-regarded truths and makes them true for the rest of us.
The set gives enough of a hint of where we are that it allows the script, direction and performance to provide the tale. It neither intrudes nor does it detract. Of course as this is Fringe Theatre it allows itself to be very minimalist but it nods to the chipper and fries out expectations correctly. The way the fridge door is held shut says so much without speaking.
Cracked Tiles is quite simply an excellent piece of theatre. For comedy to work it needs to know where its pathos lives. This knows it and mines it superbly well. With Novani wholly comfortable it creates an hour and ten minutes that opens up the questions with sufficient charm that rather than be alarmed by them, you feel they are questions that you too should be helping to answer. Performed as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, it shall return to the Fringe next year – keep me a front row seat.