Review By Lisa Lanzi
Benito Mussolini remains a controversial figure in Italy. Even now, some younger generations are claiming he did more good than not, whereas others (including my own father when he was alive) will not utter his name. The son of a blacksmith and ardent socialist father and devout Catholic school teacher mother, Mussolini was reasonably intelligent but managed to get expelled from various day and boarding schools after stabbing incidents - an arguably perfect start to guide his future career choices.
At first glance, and perhaps particularly from an Australian perspective, the fascist dictator is an odd subject around which to create a solo theatre work. However, for a performer of Tom Corradini’s intellect and talent, Mussolini is a great vehicle. The standout for me is this artist’s physicality alongside his character choices. Corradini trained in Turin at the Atelier Teatro Fisico (Lecoq method) and it is his clown prowess that supports and frames the entire, streamlined production. This actor has captured Mussolini’s stature and poses perfectly, if not a little spookily: hands on hips, the slightly pursed lips, the fanatical stare, his crowd-control efforts, his orator style, and gestural idiosyncrasies.
The enormous amount of research poured into this work is clearly shown in the information-rich text and all of it is fascinating, if perhaps a little long. Beautifully realised, contrasting moments conveyed the complexities of a driven, hypomanic individual like a tender kiss to his mother’s portrait bookended by crazed, violent screeching at his minions, or kowtowing phone conversations with a certain Adolf Hitler. The structure of Mussolini was not always linear, another great device to keep our interest. Corradini took the narrative both forward and back in time showing us a young Benito interacting with his parents contrasted by moments where Il Duce (The Leader) was depicted in full force, at the height of his power.
There are a multitude of facts woven into Corradini’s text, a credit to the skill of this actor and writer. We find out much about Mussolini’s early life and influences, his travels, beliefs and peccadilloes, and not least, his sexual and marital adventures. After the performance, the actor told us that one of Mussolini’s favourite books was Psychology of Crowds by Gustave Le Bon and the same tome offered much to the actor in preparing the solo work. The small opening night audience was definitely appreciative of both the performance and the performer.
Another notable element of Mussolini is Corradini’s vocal acuity. This performer is impressively adept at clear and distinct delivery of text but equally comfortable with oral trickery. At times his vocal depiction of machinery was both hilarious and brilliant: A telex machine spitting out news, a machine-gun rat-a-tat, and many more. As fine as Corradini’s diction and projection is, the staging was somehow not satisfying. The audience was a little too far from the action and the cavernous nature of the (very gorgeous and well set up) venue felt a little alienating. Though difficult to define, it seemed to me that the audience needed to have a more intimate relationship with the performer; perhaps angled seating in a more amphitheatre-like setup rather than strict, horizontal rows.
Corradini has written and directed numerous theatre offerings in English, Italian and French with his company Tom Corradini Teatro and has performed in Italy, the UK, France, Germany, and the Czech Republic. He is proficient in several languages and this is his first visit to Australia. Mussolini is well worth a visit during Adelaide’s Frantic (FAB) February and Mad March.
I urge audiences to support independent artists and smaller venues and producers as well as the big-ticket gigs on offer this Festival season. Mussolini could be taken to a mainstage venue anywhere in the world, but it is here for Fringe 2023.