Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Anyone climbing to the top of the political greasy pole must exhibit passion, conviction and charisma. Ross Gurney-Randall’s powerful portrayal gives us an insight into the complex personality of Italy’s most notorious dictator.
“Trying to govern the Italian people isn’t difficult, it’s merely pointless” is just one of a number of Mussolini’s classic one-liners in this biographical portrayal of the Italian dictator from Ross Gurney-Randall. Mixing facts with some pithy and dark humour, Gurney-Randall injects passion, conviction and no little energy to his performance, his piercing eyes, bull neck and alternately threatening and vulnerable demeanour going a long way to conveying the complex personality behind arguably Italy’s most notorious leader.
Pivoting around the period when Mussolini was fleeing from both the closing Allied net and the threat of Italian partisans – with only the latter likely to kill him – Gurney-Randall takes us back to Mussolini’s roots as a school teacher and one time journalist. A self-educated man with interests as diverse as Plato, Dante, Machiavelli and Nietzsche, his rise to power was evolutionary rather than the more direct route taken by his psychotic protégé, one Adolf Hitler. But rise to power he did, ultimately acquiring all the characteristics of a dictator – arrogance, hubris and narcissism included.
Yet a lot of the principles that Mussolini espoused were in many ways ahead of their time – universal suffrage and proportional representation being just two. However, espousing principles is one thing, acting on them is another. Like a lot of dictators, Mussolini talked a good game but his desire to cling to power persuaded him to continually forsake principles for the pragmatism that preserved his status as Italian supremo.
All of this comes across through Gurney-Randall’s storytelling as well as Mussolini’s growing vulnerability as his empire starts to unwind in the latter stages of the war against the Allies. Whilst tending towards the didactic at times, Gurney-Randall gets close enough to his subject to reveal elements of the human side behind an essentially villainous individual. It’s a finely judged performance – just as you might be thinking there was the possibility that Mussolini has been misunderstood, the door on potential redemption is slammed shut with further exposes of what remain horrific acts against his people, including the 15,000 Jews he sent to their deaths.
This was an effective piece of theatre with a suitcase of carefully chosen artefacts from Mussolini’s life augmented by clever lighting that made excellent use of a relatively tight stage. Gurney-Randall and co-author Dave Mounfield have produced a well-researched script which Paul Hodson has turned into a tightly choreographed performance. Well worth a visit.