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Edinburgh Fringe 2009

The Bitter Belief of Cotrone the Magician

Andrea Cusumano

Venue: Sweet @ The Firth of Forth


Low Down

The Bitter Relief of Cotrone the Magician is drawn and inspired by ‘The Mountain Giants’ by Pirandello, the early 20th Century dramatist who is now accepted as a forerunner to Theatre of the Absurd. Sicilian artist and director Andrea Cusumano also plays Cotrone. Performed out on Inchcolm Island in the Firth of Forth, the beautiful location of course plays a part in the innovation of this project but it is also a wonderful show besides. 


We are taken by boat with gently lulling music to a magical island where seabirds circle wildly and four figures stand scarecrow-like on the cliff facing out to sea. As we round the corner of the cliff the haunting Abbey comes into view. It is a magical introduction to a trip into a sort of theatrical dreamland.
Once on land are led to sit on straw bales with a view of the ruined Abbey behind, and with fragments of stone walls and steps leading into darkness. A band sits to the side looking cold and wistful, while all around us are the sights and sounds of an island at sea. On the grass in front of us sits a strange wooden structure, like a bashed box or bird table with a chair on top, and a washing line.. What are we to expect?
Then the magician appears, a cantankerous bearded man with two walking sticks, and he tells us of his existence alone on the island with his ‘friends’. The action takes a little too long to get going with Cotrone not really explaining himself very clearly. But then a parade of fantastical figures appear carrying what appears to be a Thai princess in a bordello. They are beautifully dressed, every one unique, faces daubed in colour looking like wild Inca sorcerers.
A narrative begins to take shape as this ‘visiting theatre company’ perform, with Cotrone, apparently not very happy, speaking in a mixture of Italian and English. We are introduced into around fifteen marvelous characters of every shape and size – one scarecrow-like creature playing a harmonica appearing from the wooden box. A lot happens, but any type of story is soon replaced by spectacle, and a mesmerizing one at that.
Cusumano has taken elements of the text to create his own project. What we get are little actions and reactions running between the characters. A basic conflict between the two groups is obvious, and it is more than enough to just gape at their antics. The company is made up of drama graduates and they do a wonderful job of operating their puppets, some with large, elaborate mannequins atop their heads. However, this means Cotrone is sidelined and his rambling becomes irrelevant because we have left story behind. It is also not easy to make out all the words he speaks.
The band do a great job of guiding the characters and their antics with several instruments and vocal sounds. The final stand off dance accompanied by music between the two groups, as they impart gifts of ‘themselves’ is beautiful.
With such a fantastic location we are left wondering why we aren’t taken around the space in a more site-specific show. Perhaps Scottish Natural Heritage wouldn’t allow it. However if it did, one feels the show would have to have more of a clear story or it would turn into more of an installation.
The strengths of this production, apart from the fantastic journey and location, are the puppets, costumes and music. This all works to transport us to a different world for a couple of hours, and at the end we don’t want to leave. But without a narrative, I wanted Cotrone to get more coherently involved in the action, as it was it was a little too abstract, yet once we stop trying to work out what is happening we are still left to enjoy something rather extraordinary.