Summer has arrived at the National Theatre in the form of Richard Eyre’s atmospheric Liolà, which brings the hypnotic sound of cicadas and the white washed walls of Sicily to a fairy-light filled Lyttelton stage.
While the action may take place in this Mediterranean Eden, Tanya Ronder’s pithy adaptation of Luigi Pirandello’s 1916 comedy is performed by an Irish cast, who, like another Irish production currently playing in London, surround the stage on chairs, many clutching instruments from fiddles to accordions with which to break into impromptu song.
That is where the parallels with romantic musical Once end. In fact, this small-town romp bares more resemblance to Seven Brides For Seven Brothers… just without six of the brothers and with the addition of more babies than an episode of One Born Every Minute.
For, you see, the title character of the piece is a care-free lothario, who needs only to send a lustful glance in the direction of a female villager to see her belly grow. In contrast, Simone, the richest man in the close knit community, cannot produce an heir. The unfortunate scenario leads to a complicated series of events that see Liolà’s fertilising skills come in handy in a ruse that results in more than one desperate relative employing his services.
Packed full of parables, the fairytale-like story is led by Rory Keenan with cheery charisma. Followed around by a bevy of girls desperate to be the one to clip his wings and end his emotionally nomadic ways, Liolà is a man who can make girls swoon with magic tricks and songs, but equally with his dedication to fatherhood, taking on the responsibility of his children as the women who produce them are left along the way.
Played with a suitable swagger and smooth tongue, Keenan gives a convincing and witty turn in the title role, his physically comedic, larger than life performance a direct contrast to James Hayes’ Simone, a rigid, uptight miser who believes in the power of a punch when it comes to keeping women in line, and his long-suffering wife Mita (Lisa Dwyer Hogg) who has not only had her wings clipped but been constrained to a cage for longer than her youth would suggest.
Short and sweet at just 100 minutes-long, Liolà offers a fleeting vacation to a world of small town drama and gossip, strung together with rousing folk songs performed by an onstage band of gypsy musicians who seamlessly transport Ireland to a place of burning sun and olive trees.