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The Age review Johan Padan & the Discovery of the Americas

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See article in its original context here by Rebecca Harkins-Cross for The Age.

Swashbuckling jester shines despite ageing script

When Dario Fo was commissioned to write a play commemorating Christopher Columbus’ exploration of the Americas in 1992, the notoriously irreverent Italian playwright chose a “no-tagonist” stowaway as his narrator, whose epic monologue showed up the brutality and ignorance of the colonial encounter.

Here agitprop takes the form of rollicking lampoonery, performed in the giullare style that Fo revived – a medieval form of jestering grounded in improvisation and oral tradition. At two hours, it’s a feat not only of memory but of physical endurance for any performer, demanding vigorous clowning to play a cast of thousands.

This is a masterful performance from Steve Gome.  Under Wayne Pearn’s fine direction, Gome keeps the audience captivated without theatrical aids. He brings an impish spirit and anarchic energy to the wily fugitive, raconteur, fabulist and lothario. This swashbuckling picaresque sees him acting out auto-da-fe, cannibal ceremonies, riding an amorous pig, and copulating in a hammock.

Fo’s work isn’t often performed in Australia, perhaps because his distinctive style doesn’t always translate. While this production has laugh-out-loud moments, the humour can feel dated. Despite the play’s overarching humaneness its political correctness (or lack of) also niggles; buxom and eager-to-please native women abound.

Satire wanes when the play’s primary targets, Church and State, are no longer such sacred cows. Fo’s performances were introduced with prologues directly stating contemporary political parallels, but here a reference to Indigenous dispossession feels undercooked. It’s worth seeing for Gome’s remarkable performance, but as agitprop it lands with a soft fist.


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