The Light in the Piazza
Life Like Company delivers a production of The Light in the Piazza that is worthy to play out amongst some of Italy’s greatest masterpiece artworks which hang around the stage.
Based on Elizabeth Spencer’s novella, The Light in the Piazza transports audiences back to a markedly different time. The action takes place in the summer of 1953 when a mother and daughter from the least progressive state in America, North Carolina, travel to Florence, Italy. Protective of her daughter, Clara, whose emotional and mental development has been delayed due to an accident she suffered as a child, Margaret Johnson is forced to re-imagine her daughter’s future after Clara falls in love with a handsome young Florentine, Fabrizio Naccarelli.
Life Like Company has assembled an extraordinary cast of upcoming and established Australian theatre performers to bring this classical theatre work to life. The incomparable Chelsea Plumley leads the cast as Margaret Johnson, the mother who must confront her own assumptions about her daughter’s future and ultimately becomes a champion for her empowerment. Her eleven o’clock number which concludes the show, ‘Fable’, is one of the highlights of the night alongside her mastery of this multi-layered character who could quite easily polarize the audience. Instead, she brings the audience on a journey through this woman’s difficult predicament to the point where we are cheering for her at the end of the production.
Playing the two young lovers, Clara and Fabrizio, are two up-and-coming talents to watch – Genevieve Kingsford and Jonathan Hickey. Both get their moments to shine in a story reminiscent of Shakespeare’s great classic as these two lovers fight against their own family’s wishes to remain together. One of the most magical moments occurs when Clara and Fabrizio fall in love while singing ‘Passaggiata’ despite the significant language barrier of a girl who only speaks English and a boy who speaks Italian. Amongst the rest of a very talented cast, Madison Green stands out as the wife of Fabrizio’s playboy brother Giuseppe. This character goes on a rollercoaster ride throughout the show as she contemplates her own life with a husband who has very little shame of spending time with other women and Madison gracefully takes the audience through all of these highs and lows of a woman on the edge of ruin.
Appropriately, as the show is set in Italy, English is not the only language spoken throughout the show. While used as a storytelling device to illustrate the difficulties which Margaret Johnson faces when trying to communicate her daughter’s accident to Fabrizio’s family, these moments of Italian dialogue and operatic song make this musical play on a much grander scale similar to an opera. While a working knowledge of Italian adds an extra layer to the show, if (like me) you have only garnered a few popular phrases from sitcoms over the years, you will still be able to work out what these characters are saying through some very clever directorial direction.
Supporting this action is a very cleverly designed set of Italian masterpieces flying in and out to create different rooms, locales and settings strongly placing the work in Italy and adding extra dimension to the performances through supporting imagery. The set really came to life when Margaret Johnson took centre stage to sing about a mother’s job to shield her daughter from the world surrounded by a selection of Italian paintings showing exactly that. In a play strongly highlighting cultural differences, this simple set choice immediately merged the two worlds together in a turning point for the story showing that while the languages might vary, the two cultures aren’t actually that different.
This is a production for fans of classic musical theatre. Written by Richard Rogers grandson, it brings the iconic Rogers & Hammerstein style into the modern day with a mix of opera and Italian masterpieces. Life Like Company’s magical production of The Light in the Piazza has a limited run at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Playhouse Theatre until November 6. For more information and to book tickets, visit artscentremelbourne.com.au